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Commentary: Percona runs open source databases as managed services, which makes the company popular with customers but less so with competitors.

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Percona, a company that offers open source databases as managed services, has an ambitious goal: “… anyone, anywhere, should have free access to the software and tools necessary to turn their ideas into a viable business.” The only problem with this high-minded sentiment? The software to which Percona wants to provide “free access” is owned and/or primarily developed by others, who may not like sharing revenue with Percona. 

Indeed, as Percona co-founder and CEO Peter Zaitsev put it in an interview, “We’re in an interesting situation, because for MySQL [Oracle] and MongoDB, we are working to increase the adoption of technology by promoting the technology. But at the same time, we often can be seen as a competitor by the company.” In such a world of open source but (relatively) closed governance of the code, does open source even matter?

Absolutely, said Zaitsev. Let’s look at why.

SEE: Special report: Prepare for serverless computing (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Different kinds of community

Long before Oracle acquired its way into ownership of MySQL, very few outside the MySQL AB engineering team contributed to the core of the project, said Zaitsev, who once worked at MySQL AB. Instead the focus has always been about “driving the product roadmap based on our customer needs,” he said. The MySQL engineering team under Oracle’s guidance has continued this practice. Yes, there are some small changes accepted here and there by outsiders, including from Percona (which is filled with MySQL experts), but MySQL’s open source license doesn’t change its closed project governance. 

Historically, this hasn’t really mattered, because few are technically competent to contribute, said Zaitsev. “You really need to be a damn good C developer to contribute things into the core. [Of all those who use a database like MySQL,] I would say 90% of them probably don’t even know C.” As such, most MySQL users were not in a position to become contributors

But this doesn’t mean the open source license doesn’t matter. Even if Percona is barred from making larger MySQL contributions upstream, access to the source code enables it to understand and support the code:

Some of our customers say, ‘Percona offers amazing support. Why don’t you support Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server?’ In this case, we don’t have access to the source code, so we won’t ever be able to understand the software as well as the teams inside Oracle [and Microsoft], or provide fixes to our customers. We will be forever second class, if we choose to do that. In open source software, Percona engineers have the same access to the source code as MongoDB or [MySQL] engineers. Assuming we have equally good engineers, frankly, we can provide equally good services.

Except, according to Zaitsev, the MySQL engineering team has taken to “helicopter open source.” What does this mean? “They do not really provide all the details of all the patches in the source code, but periodically just dump whole new versions to GitHub.” Why go this route? Because, said Zaitsev, this makes it “harder for people who fork MySQL to cherry-pick fixes, like security fixes, and apply them.” 

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

This approach makes sense from an anti-competitor stance, but it’s not good for community or customers. Or, for that matter, for the company engaging in the practice. By taking the “helicopter” route, for example, the MySQL team blocks itself off from community insight into better approaches to security, for example. “Getting that feedback before you actually release your software is valuable, because you get better quality,” said Zaitsev.

Free as in freedom

What if you could get that same database (or other software) for free? Proprietary but 100% free? Wouldn’t this be just as good as open source, I asked?

No, Zaitsev replied, for a few reasons. 

First, developers might not want to be locked into infrastructure that they can’t easily change–something that might be of particular concern for developers outside the US, especially in our current geopolitical climate. Zaitsev, who originally comes from Russia, told about how “in Russia in the 1990s, I could buy Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server for half a dollar.” Sounds great, right? Well…. “The relations between the United States and Russia went south, and some of the companies could not, because of sanctions, get their Oracle updated. They couldn’t get the new updates and security fixes.” 

Even if you don’t take geopolitical issues into account, Zaitsev declared, “If you look at especially long-term perspectives, there is a lot of one-sided control” with a proprietary license, even one that initially comes at zero cost. 

Percona tries to remove that “one-sided control” by religiously adhering to an open source project’s upstream. “If your application runs on MySQL and doesn’t run on Percona Server, that is a bug, no questions asked,” Zaitsev concluded. Where the Percona code base diverges (perhaps adding technology missing from the open source build of MySQL or MongoDB, for example), Percona open sources all of its code, putting customers in control. 

Those customers, in turn, are moving to open source databases. With very few exceptions, all of the most popular databases over the last 10 years have been open source. While enterprises will be reluctant to go through the bother (and license fee fight) of swapping out a proprietary database, new applications are almost always going open source. For these, Percona hopes its 100% open source approach will be a winning strategy. So far, so good.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views herein are mine and don’t reflect those of my employer.

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Xbox Series X, Series S India Pre-Order Time, Online Retailers Announced

India pre-orders for Xbox Series X and Series S will go live at 9am IST on Tuesday, September 22, Microsoft India has announced. Both Series X and Series S will be available on Amazon, Flipkart, and Reliance Digital’s online store. No offline stores have been announced. India is one of 37 countries where the new Xbox Series family will be up for pre-order on Tuesday, in addition to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

While the Xbox Series X and Series S pre-order date was announced alongside the prices — Rs. 49,990 for the Series X and Rs. 34,990 for the Series S — and launch date (November 10) last week, we didn’t have details on an exact pre-order time and where it would be available. Now we know. Gadgets 360 has also reached out to Microsoft India on details regarding special discounts (credit / debit card cashback offers) and financing options (no-cost EMIs), and we will update if we hear back.

For those outside India, here’s where you can pre-order the Xbox Series X and Series S. In the US, pre-orders go live Tuesday, September 22 at 8am PT / 11am ET on Microsoft Store, Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Newegg, and other participating retailers. Up north in Canada, pre-orders also go live at 8am PT / 11am ET on Microsoft Store, Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, EB Games, The Source, and other participating retailers.

Across the pond in the UK, Xbox Series X and Series S pre-orders will be available Tuesday 8am BST on Microsoft Store, GAME, Amazon, Dixons, Currys PC World, Argos, John Lewis, Smyths Toys, VERY, AO, Tesco, Simply Game, Shopto and other participating retailers. In mainland Europe, as well as the Middle East and Africa, you can pre-order online starting at 9am CEST on Microsoft Store, Amazon, MediaMarkt, GameStop, FNAC, Elkjøp/Elgiganten, and other participating retailers.

Down under all the way in Australia, Xbox Series X and Series S pre-orders kick off Tuesday, September 22 at 8am AEST on Microsoft Store, JB Hifi, EB Games, Telstra, Harvey Norman, and other participating retailers. And in nearby New Zealand, you can pre-order both new Xbox Series consoles starting 8am NZST on Microsoft Store, JB HiFi, EB Games, Spark, and other participating retailers.

In select markets, both Xbox Series X and Series S are available under a subscription programme, Xbox All Access, which bundles the consoles with the Xbox Game Pass membership.

Xbox Series S and Series X will launch in 37 countries — including India — on November 10, and 41 countries during “holiday 2020”.

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Netflix engineer builds SnapCamera lens to bring a comic book vibe to video calls

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Snapchat’s Lens Studio has built-in recognition for 5 hand gestures that means you don’t have to unmute to say hi or BRB.

If you need something to ease the frustration of conversations via video chat, consider a new Snap Camera lens. Cameron Hunter, a senior software engineer at Netflix, created Meeting Gestures. Instead of unmuting to say, “hi,” or “ok,” this lens communicates the information with a gesture instead. 

When you raise your index finger, “Question” pops up on your video feed in a red comic-book word bubble. Hunter used the smile recognition in Snap Camera to display “ha, ha” bubbles. Moving outside the frame brings up “I’ll be right back” in a word bubble that fills the screen.

He tweeted that he used five built-in hand gestures in Snap Lens Studio to create the lens. 

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download  (TechRepublic Premium)

Snap Camera is simple to install and use. It works on Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and  Twitch. Once you’ve got Snap Camera installed, set your video conference camera to Snap Camera. You have to run Snap Camera and your web conferencing software at the same time. 

From the home screen of Snap Camera, paste this into the search box: https://www.snapchat.com/unlock/?type=SNAPCODE&uuid=16839bd69c67492696d6ccf1296ad31e&metadata=01 

Most lenses have a more user friendly name. On Tuesday, Hunter said he was working with SnapChat to resolve an issue with the name of the lens.

That link will bring up Hunter’s lens. The word bubbles will look backward to you but will read correctly for viewers. 

Build your own lens

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Hunter’s Twitter post sparked several ideas about additional gestures for the Snap Camera library, including sign language. Hunter tweeted that you can lock messages or images to tracked objects such as a hand or a head. Snap Lens Studio does not support the middle finger gesture. Twitter user Johnny Xmas suggested the Meeting Gestures lens would be helpful during a large-scale scrum.

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Ryan Brown, content and creative lead at Twitter, built his own meeting friendly lens. When you hold up an open palm, a flash of fire pops up and a heart flashes up when you hold up an index finger. 

Lens Studio has a guide that explains how to make a lens. You can create Face Lenses for front camera experiences and World Lenses for rear camera experiences. 

There are numerous templates for both types. The General section covers 2D, 3D, face tracking, audio, and scripting. You can even define a hint that will display for a user when a lens is turned on. There are also guidelines on how to submit a lens to the Snap Camera gallery.

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New cancer screening study could affect treatment for thousands in the UK

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The first UK study to estimate the proportion of womb cancers caused by an inherited cancer predisposition called Lynch syndrome has been carried out by The University of Manchester.

Almost 3% of womb cancers are linked to a hereditary condition named Lynch syndrome, according to new clinical research findings published in the journal, PLOS Medicine. The results of the new study have caused the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to advocate a change in testing practices across the UK.

Knowing that a person has Lynch syndrome can help determine which cancer treatments are likely to be successful. It also means that patients’ family members can be screened for the syndrome and those who test positive can be offered bowel-cancer screening to detect and remove pre-cancerous polyps. This has been shown to save lives. Whilst the link between Lynch syndrome and bowel cancer is well established, however, the link with womb cancers is less well studied.

The University of Manchester has now led the first prospective UK study to determine the prevalence of Lynch syndrome in 500 women newly diagnosed with womb cancer and found 16 to have Lynch syndrome.

Thirteen of the women did not know they had Lynch syndrome and their diagnosis prompted genetics referral, cascade testing of family members and access to prevention interventions (like colonoscopy and aspirin chemoprevention) that will hopefully prevent them (and their relatives) developing other cancers in the future.

The study was led by Professor Emma Crosbie at The University of Manchester and supported by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Crosbie said: “If all women with womb cancer were tested for Lynch syndrome, we would identify around 220 women every year who didn’t know they had it, plus on average 3 family members per index case. This is around 1,000 people every year in the UK alone who would be diagnosed with Lynch syndrome and empowered to reduce their future cancer risk through proven interventions.

“More people could be enrolled in cancer prevention and screening programmes, and this may reduce the number of people being diagnosed with cancer, particularly at a young age.

“Because womb cancer often presents first, it may be the first sign that a patient has Lynch syndrome and is therefore at risk of developing bowel cancer and other Lynch-related cancers later in life. Finding out they have Lynch syndrome could enable them to take action to protect themselves and their family members from these cancers.”

A similar proportion of bowel cancers are caused by Lynch syndrome, which has led to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that anyone diagnosed with bowel cancer should be tested for the condition.

Source: University of Manchester




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