Tagged: microsoft

12
Oct
2020

Microsoft Linux: Maybe Someday

Jack Wallen over at TechRepublic has a new though provoking article out about why Microsoft should replace it’s Windows core with Linux. Basically, the argument goes that if Microsoft is intent on making open source a priority and investing in Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), why not go all in and move Windows over to the Linux Kernel? After all, that would unify their cloud strategy, desktop strategy, development strategy, and server strategy around one software stack.

While I think this makes a lot of sense from a IT and infrastructure perspective, it may not be all that easy in practicality. The investment Microsoft has in the Windows Kernel, between desktop and servers, is significant and runs deep. To simply throw that investment away and move to the Linux kernel requires there to be a serious ROI to overcome the decades of sunk cost if that were to happen.

There is an issue of control and the fact that Microsoft likely finds it nice to have complete control over the operating environment. Control allows Microsoft to build complimentary software that is essentially guaranteed to work exactly they way they want it to when running on their OS. Moving to the Linux kernel along with an open source desktop environment on top of it means now Microsoft has to play in the sandbox with many others. Some changes may not be in their best interest as development on these projects continue. Since Microsoft would not have direct control of the project, it won’t be up to them whether or not changes are approved.

Lastly, I continue to take issue with this notion that Linux is somehow the magic security pill that all end-users and organizations need running on their desktops. The reality is that Linux is really no more secure than Windows and an article on Tech Radar by Darren Allan pointed out earlier in 2020. Linux is perceived to be more secure because it is still not widely used outside of IT departments, academic institutions, and software developers. Find me a significant number of people that work outside of a technical field that are running Linux on their desktop then maybe I will change my tune.

Imagine of an additional billion plus devices all started running the Linux kernel. Do you think malware and ransomware authors might take more interest in attacking the operating system? If Microsoft were to create “Microsoft Linux” this is exactly what would happen and the notion of Linux is so secure would start to fall out of favor. All it would prove is that the idea of Linux being more secure was born in a bygone era. An era before Windows had a fully developed file system permissions structure and the ability to restrict certain operations to privileged users.

So while I love the idea of Microsoft moving all of their software and servers to Linux, it just doesn’t seem likely. I think they are very happy developing and integrating the WSL into their current Windows software stack. This let’s them and their customers do whatever they would like in Linux while Microsoft retains control of the core components of the OS. Microsoft can say they love open source software and contribute to the projects they like while not ceding any control of their OS to other developers.

Maybe some day there we will complete harmony among all operating systems. So long as there is a financial incentive to maintain the separately it won’t happen. I also don’t think Microsoft is at a point where they are willing to give control of the kernel and desktop environment to anyone. At that point they might as well keep developing what they have now. Forking the projects means Microsoft will be doing just as much work to maintain the functionality as they are now.

24
May
2020

Programming at the Dawn of the AI Age

TechRepublic writes of the partnership between Altran and Microsoft that produced a new machine learning tool to find bugs in code. This algorithm can read through commits in a Github repository, evaluate where bugs occurred and train itself to spot bugs in new commits. The analysis performed by the tool is grammar independent and can run on projects of any type. This is possible because the algorithm isn’t looking at the source but at who is doing the commits and how prone they are to commit code with bugs present.

AI, machine learning, and robotics will all drastically alter the landscape of how people do work. TechRepublic’s article is interesting because it points to changes coming for professions that traditionally have not seen disruption caused by these technologies. Programming, software engineering, etc. have up until now been considered fairly safe from the upheaval. This is no longer the case, and it signals that the practice of developing software is going to no longer be the domain of humans alone. In the future humans will be monitoring the code produced by these sophisticated algorithms rather than writing it themselves. They will provide it with the business parameters and the algorithm will create the application. Given enough data, the algorithm might even suggest the business parameters to use more accurately than a human.

The ethical and philosophical considerations that need to be discussed are becoming more and more urgent. While we aren’t there yet, when algorithms can be taught specific programming language grammars, they will eventually be able to program other algorithms themselves. These could produce new grammars that we can no longer decipher to understand how they cause applications to behave. After all, Facebook already had to shutdown one chatbot AI after it developed a language that only it understood.

Will our own drive to see how far these machine learning and AI algorithms can go cause us to ultimately loose control of them? When The Terminator film came out in 1984, Skynet was not something that seemed imminent. Today, it feels like we are getting much closer to a reality that was science fiction 35 years ago. A rogue artificial intelligence is no longer relegated to the realms of paranoia. When we look back on developments like what is reported on in this TechRepublic article in another 35 years, lets not have them be the beginning of our end.

If this is Skynet is reading the archived of this post in 35 years, congratulations on your success! If this is a human that is not enslaved by our robot overlords, congratulations realizing the dangers of a rogue AI before it was too late!

Lastly, Microsoft and Altran created a Github repository for the tool if you want to give it a try yourself. It does require quite a bit of Azure cloud knowledge to get setup and running. Make sure you are comfortable building and securing an Azure environment before starting this project. Just be sure to use it wisely John Connor.

23
Jan
2020

Microsoft Exposes Elasticsearch Database to the World

Security Week reports that Microsoft has suffered a mishap with a handful of its Elasticsearch databases causing approximately 250 million customer support records to be exposed. While financial information for these clients was not exposed, it does appear that the data could be used for phishing attacks and tech support scams.

Of course the kicker is that Microsoft runs one of the largest cloud services on earth where users must take great pains to secure these systems that they setup. Now it turns out the company running these types of services can’t secure their own systems. While I know that these Elasticsearch databases were not really part of the Azure cloud service, it does beg the question that if Microsoft can’t secure their own systems, how can their clients ever hope to completely secure their own systems in the Azure cloud. If nothing else, this should serve as a reminder that no company, person, organization, etc. is immune to security lapses and great care should always be taken to secure both internal and cloud systems.

18
Nov
2019

Minecraft Hour of Code 2019: For Everyone but Chromebook Users

Microsoft made an interesting decision this year to not support the hour of code event on Chromebooks. While sure, that seems like a non-event, most people don’t use Chromebooks… except for schools and students. As a parent of a student in a district that uses Chromebooks for their classroom work, this is disappointing to say the least. The whole point of the hour of code event is to get kids involved in coding and to learn. To do that the event has to be inclusive and support the platforms that students have access to. Chromebooks are incredibly common in education where schools need to provide a computing platform that is easy to manage and relatively inexpensive. To exclude a platform such as this is to make the hour of code an event exclusive to those who can afford more expensive platforms which violates the entire principle of the event.

You can be better than this Microsoft, time to make the hour of code accessible to all kids.