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The apparent suicide earlier this week by the owner of a company that develops virtualization software used by low cost Web hosting companies has added pathos to a massive hacking incident at one of the firm’s U.K.-based customers.

KT Ligesh, the 32-year old owner of Bangalore based LX Labs was found dead in his home on Monday morning according to a report in the Times of India. The paper quoting local police said the suicide might have been prompted by Lx Lab’s recent loss of a contract to a rival firm and other personal issues stemming from the suicide of his mother and sister a few years ago.

Ligesh’s death came just a day after VAserv, a U.K. Web hosting company disclosed that unknown hackers had breached its virtual server infrastructure and completely deleted 100,000 Web sites being hosted by the company. Nearly half of those might have irretrievably lost data because they did not have back-ups of their data according to a story in The Register.

According to VAserv the hackers breached the company’s servers by taking advantage of a zero-day flaw in HyperVM, a virtualization platform sold by LX Lab. But a note published ostensibly by the hacker claimed that the attacks had happened because VAserv had insecure password management practices and not because of HyperVM flaws.

Some of VAserv’s customers wondered if Ligesh’s death might have also been prompted by news of the massive hack. In a discussion forum ‘vincent123′ expressed surprise. “The guy actually killed himself? I read that before, but I thought it was just a way to say he’s completely out of business. Such a waste. I wonder how the hacker feels about it all,” the poster said.

The post on the discussion forum by Rus Foster, director of VAserv had a touch of anguish. “I’ve personally reached the end of my physical and emotional tether” Foster wrote in reference to his company’s efforts to restore tens of thousands of wrecked sites. “We have worked pretty much continuously for the last few days firefighting. Taking I’m also debating if I’m responsible for someone’s death, I’m not in a good place currently.”

While the timing might have been striking, Ligesh’s death most likely had nothing to do with the attack at VAserv. Even so, it has added more tragedy to what’s an already tragic situation for VAserv and its customers.

Most often these days, when hackers steal data at least they have a distinct financial motivation for doing so. However misguided that motivation might be, they still at least have a reason for wanting to break into someone else’s systems. In this case, the attackers appear to have destroyed those 100,000 Web for the sheer heck of it and just because they could. It will be interesting to see what kind of sentence they get, if ever they get caught.

RIM, it seems, has developed a bit of iPhone envy … maybe more than a bit. And who could blame them? Apple has revolutionized the consumer smartphone industry with its flashy iPhone and is enjoying record profits, increasing market share and glowing reviews from the fawning technorati. Other industry players have been quick to play catch-up, deploying many feel-alike features into their own offerings — and RIM, it seems, has finally begun to take notice.

It started with the release of the BlackBerry Storm in late 2008, RIM’s half-baked entry into the touch screen market. When Apple proved it could effectively cultivate a strong, profitable application development ecology through its iron-grip control over the iPhone App Store, RIM (eventually) debuted App World. And now, several weeks after rumors of Apple’s plans to include a front-facing camera in future iPhones began to surface, comes news that as early as next year, new BlackBerry models may include this feature. Details at this point are of course sketchy, and the “unnamed RIM executive” offered no proof that RIM intends to develop such a camera. A reluctance to provide more detail is not all that surprising in an industry where manufacturers prefer to spin buzzwords and pie-in-the-sky functionality to true spec sheets. I’m not concerned by what specific features will or won’t be available on whichever devices. Yes, I’m as interested as the next smartphone geek to see how they choose to implement this feature. Will it come at the expense of the “rear-facing” camera? Will existing carrier networks be able to handle the inevitable tidal wave of video-conferencing bandwidth drain? Will AT&T even allow Apple to offer such a luxury? All of these questions and more will no doubt be answered in due time. (Personally, I’m thinking, what better way for Jobs to make his triumphant return to WWDC than with the announcement of this much-requested feature?)

No, my real concern here is for RIM and its apparent contentment to sit back and let Apple determine RIM’s future course. A few years back — a lifetime in this industry — RIM found itself in the unique position as the de facto standard after Palm, for all intents and purposes, collapsed and disappeared from the market it pioneered. It didn’t take the little company from Canada long to entrench itself in the lucrative business smartphone market, snapping up major contracts with players as big as the US government itself left and right. Satisfied to leave the consumer market to Nokia, Microsoft and the others, RIM quickly set itself on “cruise control” and has been coasting ever since. BlackBerry software updates — even major revisions — have included only incremental improvements and bug fixes (witness early OS 5.0 leaks, nearly identical to 4.7 and 4.6 and…). Other than the Storm, which RIM obviously had no idea what to do with, BlackBerries really haven’t changed in a long, long time. You still get the same small screen above a physical keyboard in a cookie-cutter form factor with the new Tour that came with the first Curve models back in 2007.

And why not? For RIM, like Palm and Microsoft before them, there was no reason to innovate. They were in control of their own destiny. And even when Apple shook the industry to its core with the introduction of its first iPhone, there still wasn’t much to worry about. Sure, Apple fanboys and starry-eyed New York Times technobloggers flocked to it — but that was just the “Cult of Mac” effect making itself visible in a new marketplace. The phone had numerous problems and bizarre shortcomings (no copy and paste!). So RIM, while taking perhaps a bit of momentary notice, has continued on its happy way, oblivious. Besides, Apple has never been able to make any real headway into RIM’s core business, the enterprise smartphone.

As the consumer end of the spectrum has exploded and is reaching critical mass in the overall cell phone industry, RIM has finally awoken to find itself playing catch up to Apple. The Storm, and its botched OS updates, the very mediocre App World, and now this latest all point to a company that no longer understands the market it once dominated. Meanwhile, Apple has listened to its critics and customers, rolling out those magical, missing features and fixing bugs while adding processing power and improving the all-important “User Experience”.

Which leads to the real question: how much longer can RIM sit back and follow Apple’s lead and still expect to maintain market share? My guess? About a month after Apple ends AT&T’s exclusivity deal and other carriers are able to offer true innovation to their customers.

Mike Maginnis lives in Colorado, where he works for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. He spends his spare time feeding his vintage computing and photography addictions, the former of which is evidenced by his Web site, The Computist Project.

Over the past several years, and as recently reported by Computerworld, the adoption of Apple’s Mac has blown way past the expectations of even the most favorable industry pundits.  But Apple might be writing the ticket to its own demise.

Several years ago, Apple made the notorious, and ultimately well received switchover to Intel processors.  Undoubtedly they were driven in part by the realization they couldn’t continue to march along with relatively unique processor platforms while keeping up with market demands for innovation and just raw production. 

But from the signs in the market today, that switch to x86 hardware may be taking a bite out of Apple right where it counts.  The problem is, x86 brings with it components built for a huge mass market, and often at such scale that some mis-steps are hard to avoid.  While the market likely bent to Apple’s demands for high degrees of customization and quality in the initial generations, many users are discovering the same doesn’t hold true for the latest gen equipment.  A quick examination of a few reported MacBook Pro issues makes the case.

  • MBP 17″ display issues, perhaps blamed on Nvidia’s controller used with a dual-link display.
  • Unibody MBP 15″ and 13.3″ SATA controller issues, that limited SATA support to the 1.5Gbps first generation standard, in a market where 3.0Gbps SATA II is quickly becoming ubiquitous.  
  • A botched firmware update — EFI 1.7 — that attempted to switch on SATA II capabilities, but in fact caused worse incompatibilities with a number of drives, set the stage for numerous logicboard replacements, and instigated the eventual release of an unprecedented firmware “downgrade” hack.

Based on Apple’s responsiveness to the reported issues (which pretty much consists of lack thereof) all of these issues seem to be unresolvable.  The latter two issues are extensively documented in this ever growing forum thread over at MacRumors – a thread that has rapidly grown to over 1,580 posts, with no apparent end in site.  Numerous blog and news posts around the web reference same issue and thread.

Speaking from experience, the SATA controller issues are personally bothersome for this author, and have in fact altered my plans to update my own MBP systems to the latest unibody models.  Perhaps I need to be shopping for a trusty old PowerPC model.

The question for current users: has Apple permanently altered the long term residual value of their computing investment?  With resale values holding high, Mac users often expect some residual value that justify the high prices of the platform.  If the new unibodies ultimately prove unable to host SATA II devices effectively, and if SATA I devices become unavailable as replacement drives, does the latest generation MBP become a paperweight?

In my own field of expertise, an observation lingers.  For those convinced that the ease of access to impressive spindles, SSDs, and storage software like ZFS are changing the game, don’t go too far.  Apple is demonstrating that even on the consumer side, storage takes some attention to details.