How do you let people create user accounts or post comments on your Web site without letting spam bots in? Simple — make your users prove they’re human. Many Web sites use CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) technology to try to tell the bots from the people.
CAPTCHA’s idea is simple enough. It presents users with an image showing an obfuscated string of letters that they must type in to get an e-mail or social networking account, for instance, or to enter a comment on an online forum. The theory is that only humans can decipher the letters hidden in the image and type in the correct code, and for a time it was an effective tool to keep the bots out.
But while no one has yet come up with a computer that can fool people into thinking it’s another person, computers are great at fooling other computers. These days, malware makers and spammers regularly trick the CAPTCHA systems at big-name Web sites such as Yahoo Mail, Gmail and Craigslist, and use these sites to automate their attacks.
Details are scarce, unless Russian is your language of choice, but CNews is reporting that Russia plans to develop its own national operating system. The move is designed to reduce Russia’s need to rely on foreign software and licensing agreements. And the alleged “open code” solution, likely a Linux/GNU derivative, will give Russia a greater degree of customization, as well as increased control over how the potentially free OS is used and accessed.
This isn’t the first time Russia has dabbled with the idea of widespread open-source software distribution. According to Russia Today, a pilot program is already underway in three Russian regions to replace Microsoft-branded operating systems in Russian schools with Linux alternatives. All Russian schools are expected to make the software switch by 2009, according to Russian leaders.
Expect the national transition to put a large feather in the cap of Linux advocates worldwide. But will it spurn increased U.S. adoption of the open-source OS? The economic crisis might be more fuel for that fire. A “free the penguin” initiative aimed at increasing Linux adoption in U.S. academic institutions signed up more than 3,000 interested schools between September and December of 2008–that’s 20,000 new open-source desktops across 29 separate states.