UK Government reckons this open source thingy could catch on maybe

Yep – in typical fashion, even the government’s tacit admission that it was behind the curve on open source was released late.

The press release/statement/apology – Government levels the playing field for open source – wasn’t sent out from the Ministry of Truth until at least 7.00pm – when most reporters are tucked up in the nearest hostelry.

And what about that headline – “levels the playing field’ – that seems to imply that until now the government has been quite happy with uneven playing field when it comes to procuring anything but proprietary technology but I might be being unfair.

Interestingly though the release also states that “major players in the IT industry now support the use of Open Standards”. For major players basically read Microsoft as I am not sure what other major players have recently stumbled over this open source thing: IBM, HP, Dell – have all been supporting Linux (to some degree or other) for years.

Anyway, better late than passed-over-in-favour-of-a -reduced-price-which-quickly-becomes-lock-in, I guess.

The timing is also interesting – is it down to open source reaching critical mass? Or could it be something to do with the fact that the government has given all our money to bankers and can no longer afford to throw money at whichever proprietary solutions EDS thinks is best?

Minister for Digital Engagement (what sort of job title is that??? Does that mean he can marry two computers that are very much in love), Tom Watson clearly thinks that open source can save the government some cash: “Open Source software is a not a cure-all remedy and is not the only solution to IT questions. However, by levelling the playing field and allowing Open Source to be as competitive as possible we can ensure that taxpayers get maximum value for money from Government IT, something that is more important than ever during the worldwide financial climate”

However he won’t actually goes as far as to say its a superior development model or anything that positive at all. The whole statement reads more like “It could save us a few quid and everyone is doing it so shucks I guess we should too”

Anyways the governments approach is based around three ideas – (three – count’em – not one, not two but three! – Fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency)

There are three aspects to the new policy:

Open Source software: the policy includes 10 actions that will actively help make sure the best possible, best value for money software solutions are put forward for tenders, be they Open Source or propriety products.

Open Standards: the policy contains an explicit reference to Open Standards, ensuring systems are inter-operable and avoiding getting locked into a particular product where possible. Re-use: the Government will look to re-use what it has already bought, with successful solutions being made available across Government.

So there you go – that’s that open source thing taken care off. Tune in next week when the government decides that this Interwebby thing might actually be useful.

HP and the African e-waste problem: Round 2



African schools are putting refurbished PCs (some of the HP) to good use
African schools are putting refurbished PCs (some of the HP) to good use

I have been tracking the issue of illegal dumping of old tech in Africa for a while now and reported HP’s first efforts to investigate this issue last year:,1000000091,39289404,00.htm

The PC maker has just released the first findings from this study – conducted on the ground in Kenya and Morocco so far – which you can find below.

It is a complex issue and HP deserves credit for highlighting the problem. However when I told a contact of mine about the HP programme he was less than impressed.

Having worked on the ground in Africa for years, my contact is well aware of the problems of what happens to IT kit – sold new into the country by vendors like HP or refurbished machines donated by charities – at the end of its useful life.

Here are the points he raised when I told him about the HP programme – with the original language toned down a bit:

1. HP already knows exactly what needs to be done with eWaste. There is no mystery. HP already does it in many other countries that have Green lobbies and governments ready to enforce environmental protection.

2. In Europe HP builds multi-million dollar eWaste facilities and (more recently) pays for end-of-life disposal of PCs spending an amount calculated to be in direct proportion to the number of HP units sold into the European market (as it is required to do under the WEEE Directive). The question is then why, when HP is environmentally compliant within the European Community, does it pay for zero end-of-life disposal in Africa?

3. HP equipment is sold in virtually all of Africa’s 53 countries – where it is market leader in printers and competes in the desktop and laptop segments – but it seems that whilst they are prepared to invest in Africa in pursuit of sales and profit – their concern for the environment ends at the Mediteranean Sea.

5. Will Africa have to force HP to take responsibility for end-of-life disposal by passing legislation or will HP volunteer funding of environmental recycling in Africa that is directly proportional to its
market share in Africa – as it already does in Europe?

6. Computers for Schools Kenya have set up a pilot recycling facility in Nairobi, Kenya.

Instead of bloating the research budgets of European ‘think tanks’ they [HP and its researchers] could just give CFSK the funding that

they need to recycle the tens of thousands of pieces of HP kit sold into Africa every year. That won’t happen.

Instead they will now vote themselves a second round of research funding based on their primary finding that ‘more research needs to be done’!!

Here’s an excerpt from the HP release :

HP unveils conclusions and next steps of project to tackle electronic waste in Africa

BRUSSELS, February 17, 2009 – HP together with the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) today unveiled the first results of a pilot project to tackle the problem of electronic waste (e-waste) in Africa. This initiative was carried out in South Africa, Morocco and Kenya and has allowed HP to gather vital information on how African governments, organisations and society are dealing with the rising problem of e-waste management, as well as test solutions on the way forward.

The information and experience gathered in this project, which also included contributions from local organisations and NGOs, will support the launch of the second phase of the project, which aims at engaging corporate and government partners to further extend e-waste management programmes to other countries and tackle the problem of e-waste in the entire continent.

“HP has a responsibility that starts with the design of a product and goes right through to its disposal and we take that responsibility very seriously,” commented Klaus Hieronymi, Director, Environmental Business Management, HP EMEA. “We see these projects in Africa as both providing employment opportunities for local communities and as a step towards a sustainable solution for tackling electronic waste in Africa.”

For more on this issue check out:



Rwandan tech ambitions hit by corruption charges

A contact who has travels to Rwanda fairly often and has been impressed by the country’s investment in IT infrastructure over recent years, just sent me a rather worrying/amusing link.

The country has ambitions to become the “Singapore of Africa” and plans to develop its broadband network to a level that will attract outside investors and foreign companies to take it seriously.

However, becoming an “IT Hub” is more than just about putting cables in the ground as the Indian Satyam scandal showed.

It seems that The Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Rwandan Ministry of Education was arrested recently for asking for a bribe from a potential supplier to the government. If that wasn’t bad enough – it seems said civil servant has now done a bunk from police custody.

Read the whole sorry tale here:

Private medical insurance – The true cost of medical insurance

This piece I wrote for HR Magazine about Private Medical Insurance is live online. (It has been since December but I don’t always find out when features written for print mags make it onto the interweb)

With costs rising dramatically, there are fears that private health cover will go the same way as final-salary pension schemes. Andrew Donaghue reports.

Proud as the UK is of the NHS, it seems many companies still see state-funded health treatment as a potential black hole when it comes to lost productivity. Around 90% of UK businesses claim to offer private medical cover to some of their staff and spend on average around 7% of their total payroll costs on health benefits. Private cover is seen not only as a way to speed up treatment for staff but also an important perk.

But despite the popularity of private medical insurance (PMI), it is a benefit under siege. According to a recent report from financial services specialist Mercer, the cost of providing health benefits rose by an average of 5% in 2007. Further research conducted by the company in July this year, revealed that medical cover inflation is running at 10%, which means a plan that cost a company £1 million in 2008 could cost up to 60% more in five years’ time.


The result is that PMI could face the same fate as final-salary pensions, eventually becoming unsustainable for most companies to offer, unless there are radical changes in the structure and comprehensiveness of plans.

For more go to HR Magazine.

CIOs: How to Deal with a Data Breach

Just noticed that a piece I wrote for CIO Magazine on data breaches is now live on the US and UK sites:

The 5.30am electronic rumble of a BlackBerry set to vibrate. The sound no CIO wants to hear at that hour as it can only mean bad news.

The chief security officer apologizes for waking you but she is clearly agitated. She has just been woken herself by the security consultants you called in to carry out a data audit. The team pulled a late shift last night and discovered some anomalies in the main customer database. The CSO is doing a poor job of covering her panic as she stumbles out with: “It might be nothing”. But you both know that you wouldn’t be having this conversation now if that’s what she really felt.

Despite the security breach at HM Revenue and Customs(HMRC) in November last year, it seems that many companies are still failing to heed the lessons learned from the incident. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been notified of almost 100 data breaches by public, private and third sector organisations since HMRC.

“Data is the lifeblood of many organizations but it is not often looked after very well,” says CIO Peter Birley of law firm Browne Jacobsenon his personal CIO Blog. Recent high-profile breaches include the loss of the personal details of around 5000 prison officers in September this year and allegations of a significant data loss at US hotel chain Best Western.

For more go to

US economy narrowly avoids hacking disaster (fails to avoid self-made one)

Got to love this.

Sophos have just sent out a press release warning about a near miss hack attack on US financial giant Fannie Mae. 

Apparently a disgruntled employee planned to set off a “malware timebomb” that would have wiped the organisations databases – potentially triggering an economic meltdown which would have plunged financial markets into a recession which we have not seen the likes of since the great depression. Fear, confusion and chaos would have been widespread.

Phew! Good job that didn’t happen then! 

Actually Sophos goes on to say that with the markets in turmoil already, the hacking attack would have caused untold misery. I disagree, I think no one would have noticed. I think this could be a new tactic to defeat hackers and even terrorists, let”s just let society and the economy implode and the malcontents won’t be able to disrupt anything – self-made scorched earth policy -it’s genius.

Here is the missive in full:


Disgruntled software engineer attempted to obliterate 4,000 servers with malicious script

IT security and control firm Sophos is reminding businesses of the importance of properly safeguarding IT networks following the news that a federal grand jury in Maryland, US, has indicted a 35-year-old ex-employee of Fannie Mae for planting a malicious script, designed to destroy data on the US financial giant’s servers.

According to media reports, Rajendrasinh Babubhai Makwana worked as a software engineer at Fannie Mae’s offices in Maryland for three years, where he is said to have had access to all of the company’s 4,000 servers.

During this time, Makwana, an Indian citizen who now resides in Virginia, is alleged to have embedded destructive code on the company’s server which was due to trigger at 9:00 am on 31 January 2009, wiping out all data across the network by overwriting it with zeroes. According to the prosecution case, anyone trying to log in to the network on 31 January would have received a message saying ‘Server Graveyard’.

Documents presented to the court state that, Fannie Mae terminated Makwana’s employment in October 2008 – the malicious script was allegedly found the following day. If found guilty, Makwana could face a sentence of up to ten years in prison.

“Obviously this case is ongoing, with charges not yet proven against Makwana, but it should serve as a timely reminder to all companies as to what they should be prepared for,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “Implementing a combination of robust user policies and security measures is crucial in order to safeguard their IT networks – and ultimately their business – against such incidents.”

“As the credit crunch forces companies to tighten their belts around the world, more and more firms will be making the difficult decision to make staff redundant. But it’s important to remember that a disaffected employee could create havoc inside your organisation,” continued Cluley. “We can only imagine the impact if an attack like this hadn’t been intercepted and had successfully struck a financial institution – with public confidence in the financial system at an all-time low, coupled with an unstable economy, the consequences would be dire.”

“Had this malicious script executed, it would have probably caused millions of dollars of damage and reduced – if not shutdown – operations at Fannie Mae for at least one week,” said FBI agent Jessica Nye in a sworn statement. “The total damage would include cleaning out and restoring all 4,000 servers, restoring and securing the automation of mortgages, and restoring all data that was erased.”

Government kicks UK when it’s down with more ID Card news

 Although the country is mortgaged to the hilt, the pound is worth about the same as it was in 1978, and job losses indicate that only PoundStretcher and McDonalds will be employing anyone by the end of the February, the government still thinks we want to hear about the benefits of ID Cards. 
Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said:
“Those benefits include increased protection against identity fraud for the individual and help in protecting our communities against criminals, illegal immigrants and terrorists trying to exploit multiple identities.”

Here’s the entire missive from the Ministry of Truth which hit my in-box just now:

(Home Office) Benefits of Identity Cards will be delivered soon, Home Secretary tells Manchester

Work is underway to identify a number of areas across the UK where British nationals can be among the first to apply for an identity card, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced when she visited Manchester today.

Further details of plans to introduce the first voluntary identity cards for the general public this autumn were revealed during her visit to meet with young people and the city’s business and community leaders.

At a speech in Manchester Town Hall she emphasised the benefits identity cards will bring for the region and the country and set out the progress made in delivering the cards. Building on a commitment made in November she expanded on plans to make a limited number of the cards available early from this autumn.

A brand new website giving the public more information on keeping their identity secure will be launched in the Spring. British nationals interested in getting an identity card will be able to stay up-to-date with developments and can register to be told if the National Identity Service goes live in their region.

Greenspan’s dinosaur diary

Just reading Alan Greenspan’s autobiog and while a lot of the hardcore economics goes over my head by several thousand feet, there are enough interesting anecdotes about various politicos to sustain interest.

Although it smacks of the ghost-written glossiness that too many of these celeb books are infected with – all the interesting edges knocked off through a combination of excessive lawyering and over zealous editing – there are still some critical nuggets in there but not as many as there should have been. He didn’t get on too well with George Bush Snr but neatly sides-steps any direct criticism – even though Bush blamed him for losing the election to Clinton given the dire state of the economy at the end of his presidency,

The fact that the whole credit crunch thing happened after the hardback was published means it’s kind of like reading the survival struggle diary of a dinosaur published just before the meteorite hit. Stories of dodging another Tyrannosaurus attack don’t have the same impact when you know 80 percent of life is about to be wiped out. But it’s an interesting read nonetheless. 

The paperback version does have an extra chapter added on in which Greenspan does tackle the financial crisis but he manages to side-step any issue of culpability and the whole section has a sort of hasty and defensive edge to it. Mind you, he doesn’t seem to accept any blame for Black Monday either so that is not exactly surprising. Not sure if he should do but it feels a bit like when the market goes right that is down to decisive action by the Fed and when it goes wrong – well that is just the cycle of the market. Convenient. 

He does neatly sum-up where all the cheap cash came from which led to the credit bubble – namely that some of our present problems can be traced back to the fact that Chinese workers like to save cash. The expanding economy over there combined with this propensity to save flooded Asian markets with cheap cash which then flowed around the whole financial system – well at least that’s how I interpreted it which apart from probably being overly simplistic could also be completely wrong – but it’s a nice image.

I have only just got to the Clinton presidency so it will be interesting to hear what Greenspan makes of Slick Willy.

Apple loses Front Row dinner-party marketeers with remote move

My girlfriend has just bought a new MacBook, rather than a recession-friendly netbook, but hey. But despite being a couple of hundred quid more than the old style, Apple seem to have done away with the little remote. 

After a bit of searching through the box, and a bit more searching online, we realised it wasn’t a packaging error at Cupertino, but they buggers have actually stopped including them. Having looked on some forums the consensus is that most people didn’t use them and actually Steve is doing us a big favour by not bothering us with this distraction – Steve knows best!.

I guess I am in the minority but I actually like the remote and I think Apple is missing out on a trick here. One sure way to wow your Windows friends when they come around for dinner is to casually use the remote to launch Front Row from across the room – that always goes down well. 

Sad I know but it’s one of my few party tricks – well that and flicking peanuts into my mouth. Apple has given the option to buy a remote for $19 but most people won’t. 

I guess judging by the company’s results, Apple doesn’t need anymore marketing help but doing away with the remote is going to mean a few less Mac owners get to show off Front Row and saying your Mac Book is made from one complete piece of plastic doesn’t have the same effect.

Is Bill’s philanthropy just another form of control?

On a flight back from LA last week I found myself in that brain limbo that too much air travel can impose. Too wired to sleep but too tired to sit through a whole movie so breaking with my normal obsessive need to watch all the new movies on the plane I opted for some TV and chanced on the BBC Money Programme Interview with Bill Gates which aired last June.

I missed it at the time, probably consciously expecting it to be more glossed over mainstream coverage of Bill. For the most part it was exactly what I expected with presenter Fiona Bruce steering clear of asking Bill too many of the tough questions despite claiming that  it had taken the Beeb almost two years of negotiations with Microsoft to secure the interview. The programme delved into the history of MS and went over the usual ground and then tackled Bill’s new philanthropic career.

Various talking heads popped up around the issue including US tech journo and super-geek Robert X Cringely who basically claimed that Bill’s latest venture is all about securing a nobel peace prize! Well that makes sense but then thinking about another aspect of philanthropy, the tax saving, it struck me that while it might seem on one hand that Bill is being supremely altruistic with giving away billions the fact is that he has to to do that anyway through taxation. So by setting up this huge philanthropic effort he is able to take back some control of that vast chunk of cash that he was previously sending off to the US Treasury and Bill likes control. 

I am sure that there is a lot of genuine altruism here but people don’t really change that much. The single-minded focus on achieving a goal has characterised Microsoft’s rise to to top and the fact that Gates would suddenly shift gift and become some touchy-feely Mother Teresa-like figure just doesn’t wash. There is a plan here with a definite end-game, probably the nobel peace prize, with the handy by-product of being able to have more say over the vast swathes of tax dollars.

Gates wasn’t given a completely free-ride by the BBC, the parting segment had Fiona Bruce being shown around the MS Campus by Gates. The pair came up against what seemed to be a locked door. Gates assumed that the door was secured by the high-tech security system and search vainly for his swipe card before resigning himself to calling for help. After credulously asking if Bill was locked out of his own building, the BBC presenter simply leant on the door and strolled in. And neat little segment that said it all really.