Microsoft took the wraps off a new Web service dedicated to managing energy use. Called "Hohm" (presumably, a play on the combination of "home and "Ohm"), the product will take advantage of smart grid data on energy use when it's available. Even when it's not, however, Hohm will allow users to input their own details and share the results of their efficiency efforts, adding a bit of a Web 2.0 sheen to matters. The move comes after a number of other major IT powers, including Google and Cisco, have announced their own efforts in the area, suggesting that a lot of people think this market is about to take off.
The Hohm service itself is a bit of a hybrid of a number of services. From the smart grid perspective, a growing number of hardware makers are producing equipment that uses standardized methods of structuring and reporting data. That allows just about anyone to plug into the data, provided they're willing to work with utilities to obtain it. At the moment, Microsoft has lined up four utilities that will work when the service starts up, but they're certainly going to be working hard to bring more on before then. Two smart meter companies were also in on the announcement, indicating that Microsoft has already started validating the input from some of the existing hardware.
The data, however it's obtained, will be stored using Redmond's cloud offering, Windows Azure. The people behind Hohm have undoubtedly benefited from the experience of those who've built Microsoft's medical records service, which also uses Azure.
No, Windows 7 did not release to manufacturing yesterday, a fact that was once again repeated by Microsoft to Betanews late yesterday. As blogger Ed Bott accurately pointed out, those who drew conclusions about the multitude of zeroes in the build number were not taking into account the more esoteric meanings such numbers have historically held within Microsoft.
So yesterday's news of volume licensing discounts for Windows 7 beginning September 1 was not a delay. In fact, as a Microsoft spokesperson outlined for Betanews late yesterday, business customers are already eligible for upgrades to Windows 7 under their existing Software Assurance program, which will expire shortly after the new licensing program is set to begin.
"If your PCs are covered by Software Assurance when Windows 7 is released, then you automatically get the rights to deploy Windows 7 Enterprise to those PCs without an additional license fee (media fulfillment fees may apply)," reads Microsoft's partner page explaining the Software Assurance (SA) program.
In fact, there's a window of opportunity for SA customers to get a big break throughout the entire month of August, the spokesperson told us. If a customer purchases a new PC between July 31 and August 31, and "if a customer attaches Software Assurance to a new PC, that PC is eligible to upgrade to Windows 7 Enterprise as soon as it is available." There's a 15% discount on SA costs during that month as well.
"This offer is the better deal," the spokesperson admitted, "because the cost is less and the customer gets Windows 7 Enterprise."
Developers on the "Shiretoko" track for Mozilla's new open source Firefox 3.5 Web browser now have very good reason to expect a ship date for the first round of bug fixes and vulnerabilities. A very big vulnerability has turned up in just the wrong place: a public site for posting exploits.
The problem is a new permutation of an old exploit technique that, ironically, was first brought to prominence in 2006 by a package called "Internet Exploiter." It's called a heap spray, comprised of shellcode that's set to be distributed into an area in blocks, a bit like spraying bricks into a wall. The resulting pattern may contain executable code that can be triggered through an overflow; and in this case, it's version 3.5's embedded font support, using the <FONT /> tag, that's the trigger.
A check of the Bugzilla database this morning does not indicate the issue as an active security bug among Mozilla testers. However, security firm Secunia rates the vuln "Extremely Critical," as the published exploit is believed to be in use in the wild.
In its proof-of-concept distribution, the exploit triggers CALC.EXE in Windows, though it's an academic matter for someone to make that trigger run other code, perhaps an arbitrary payload. Though this exploit is not a "virus" per se, despite how some local TV newscasts may portray it, certainly the arbitrary payload this trigger may enable could be infectious.
Though a general planning meeting for next-stage Firefox development was scheduled for yesterday morning, and security problems were scheduled to be on the agenda, apparently this latest exploit had not yet cropped up at the time developers met. Meeting notes published yesterday concerning the bug fix schedule for 3.5.1 read, "Contrary to some reports on the Internet, this is the usual process for Firefox and software releases; the 3.5 release was strong, stable and solid, and feedback has been extremely positive. Near the end of the release we become extremely conservative about patches to accept; the 3.5.1 release is a quick update to fold in some patches that came up late in the 3.5 release cycle."
Candidate builds of 3.5.1 were scheduled for next week, though today's discovery may accelerate the release process.
The Lunarsoft Forums are back online after a brief downtime. There was a pruning issue in Invision Power Board 3.0.0 that causes the sessions table to not clear out. A patch has been applied and should resolve the issue.
If you experience any further issues please let us know.
Our forums are periodically going down due to memory issues. This issue is being investigated and a ticket has been submitted to Invision Power. As we looked into the issue it seems to be a problem with PHP and the Invision Power Board software, signs are pointing to a memory leak. As soon as we know the cause we will inform our users.
We apologize for any inconvenience and forum downtime.
The first of the month always brings a bountiful harvest from Google's blogging troops, and two posts yesterday pointed us to some nifty changes to Gmail's labels features and passed along some cheerful numbers concerning spam levels as measured by the company's Postini group.
With one notable exception, those who rely even moderately on Gmail's labels ought to like where things are going. The section is finally positioned above the chat area, for starters, and your labels can be easily grouped and rearranged for your convenience rather than only in alpha order. (Gmail attempts to help you out by picking a few to put at the top of the list, hiding the rest, but we found that it didn't guess well at all; fortunately, sorting it out was drag-and-drop simple.)
Drag-and-drop is working between the message pane and the labels too, and behaves just as the recently released "Move" option does, simultaneously labeling and archives the messages you're dealing with. It takes a second to figure out that the correct grab spot is on the extreme left edge of the message (if you weren't already using drag-and-drop with abandon to shift messages into folders), but once you're doing it right it's simple.