March 2013 Archives

Python snakes through U.S. Defense Agency

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Developer newswires are alight this week with news of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announcing a $3 million dollar (£2 million pound) funding commitment directed towards the Python programming language.

NOTE: Python runs on Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, and has been ported to the Java and .NET virtual machines. Python is free to use, even for commercial products, because of its OSI-approved open source license.
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DARPA's funds will be directed towards Austin, Texas-based software development and provision company Continuum Analytics.

The firm will be tasked with extending and improving the Python language's data processing and visualisation power for big data analytics.

The project is hoped to help uncover new techniques and methods for visually portraying multi-dimensional large data sets.

"If [developers] can learn an easy language, they won't have to rely on an external software development group to complete their analysis," said Continuum Analytics president Peter Wang.

Wang insists that Python is an easy language to learn for non-programmers and says that this is an important consideration here, because "most big data analysis" will typically be carried out by non-programmers.

This project forms an element of DARPA's wider XData research programme, an initiative designed to provide the American government agencies (and the U.S. Defense Department in particular) with new tools to work with and manage "huge quantities of sensor data" and other forms of big data.

After Windows 8, developing for Windows Blue

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Windows 8 has been doing its level best to try and wean us off of the WIMP "windows, icons, menus, pointer" standard that has characterised the lion's share of our computing experiences for the last couple of decades.

But how do the software application developers feel?

Attend any Microsoft-hosted US west coast located developer event and there will still generally be whoops of delight for every new feature or use case the Windows evangelist team cares to wheel out.

They "whooped" Vista back in 2005 after all.

Developers have perhaps been less enthused out in the rest of the real world when it comes to their reaction to Windows 8.

Reports suggest that the firm's invitation to code natively for Windows 8 and potentially leave aside a degree of their .NET, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) skills has not gone down well with programmers.

So what comes next?

After Window 8 we find Windows (codename) Blue lying in wait. Call it Windows 8.1 or Windows 9 or Windows Blue if you wish, details are sketchy at this stage.

NOTE: Actually Windows Blue is Windows 8.1 if anything i.e. it is an augmentation to the Metro interface and is not a complete new version in any form.

For developers already committed to a "mobile first" development imperative, Windows Blue will probably sounds like good news if it indeed does arrive with its anticipated more standardised software base shared between the full Windows proper and the Windows Phone OS.

Even bigger size "livetiles" and even smaller ones too are likely to be an element of Windows Blue - a feature that evidences greater proximity with Windows Phone OS.

While a lot of this is rumour-based conjecture (albeit intelligently written) at this stage, there appears to be a consensus of opinion over Microsoft's future release cycles i.e. updates to the Window operating system will now appear on a much more regular basis (perhaps annually) - so for developers this could and should mean less of an incremental shock (than say, between Windows 7 and Window 8) as we go forward.

Will Windows Blue act more like Windows 7 and previous versions?

Well almost but not quite -- it is thought that Microsoft will build in functionality to allow two windows Windows to be displayed together and "snapped" alongside each other side by side.

Plus there could be an option to be able to display up to four separate apps simultaneously -- almost enough for anybody, surely?

Website theverge.com has published the below picture as part of a full gallery of Windows Blue screenshots:

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The future for HTML5 is hybrid native mobile apps

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How should we now approach the debate circling the use of native mobile application software development versus the benefits offered by concentrating on apps developed for the mobile web using HTML5?

Although Mark Zuckerberg thinks that "betting completely" on HTML5 is a bad choice to make despite the fact that his company had done so in the past, not everything the Facebook founder touches turns to gold.

HTML5 is popular with software application programmers due to its "familiar" use of HTML, JavaScript and CSS.
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The goal here is the creation of the so-called "consistent user experience" across all devices in any usage scenario.

HTML5 also benefits from its easier (than old HTML) methods for updating web applications that do not require users to download or install physical updates to their machines; as we might consider normal with a "native" app that is installed directly onto a user's smartphone, tablet or indeed any other device.

While native apps will typically run in more offline scenarios with no Internet connection, the porting of this software across multiple devices and platforms is the painstaking part of the equation which, in general terms, can be circumvented by use of an HTML5 app via a browser.

But HTML5 has also been called out for its limitations.

Interdependencies, nuances and fragmentation issues

Is it a consistent user experience in all use cases via a browser? No not quite, HTML5 apps can render and perform differently depending on the browser and the device platform being used; there are just too many application interdependencies, nuances and fragmentation issues for the seamless "same app anywhere" Holy Grail to be there - not quite yet anyway.

HTML5 has also been criticised for having weaker and less intuitive User Interfaces (UIs) for some application deployments than native apps.

There has also been developer consternation over missing HTML5 APIs and the suggestion that it is sometimes more difficult to route monetising advertisement streams onto HTML5 sites than it is to target older HTML ones.

In fact, HTML5 has even been criticised for not having the required level of DRM (Digital Rights Management) that it really needs to be able to serve all the multimedia services that it needs to.

Support for background processing functionality and the overall security of its data storage capabilities have also been questioned.

If you consider the basic laws of physics, HTML5 application execution is (at this stage) also logically going to lag behind native app execution functions that plug into core components of the device by virtue of proximity such as the camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS system, microphone and calendar etc.

The thing to remember here at the still comparatively early and still formative stage is that it's not a complete "native or HTML5 only trade off" situation i.e. it is possible to developer native apps with a portion of HTML5 web-centric connectivity such they benefit from some a layer of extra connectivity.

Think of it as a hybrid app approach where elements of native code are presented in an HTML5 wrapper.

This debate has only just begun.

Enforcing embedded security for Android on the inside

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Android-based embedded systems get a security lock down this month in the form of the newly released McAfee Application Control for Android.

This security product resides inside the Android kernel, embedded in the operating system -- on the inside.

The firm contends that it is the only security technology provider that provides "enforceable security" by residing in the Android kernel space
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News of this product comes in the wake of a report from the company highlighting the possibility of Near field communications (NFC) acting as a gateway to a number of new security threats for mobile phones during 2013.

McAfee suggests that Android is quickly becoming a favorite platform for embedded engineers and therefore reasons that with Android's success in expanded markets, the operating system is drawing the attention of new attacks.

Rishi Bhargava vice president of product management at McAfee explains that this embedded control solution provides tamper proof protection along with operational control of devices in the field.

Previously, embedded engineers had only a single operating system option -Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux)- if they wanted to have enforceable security capabilities for their embedded system.

"Prior to McAfee Embedded Control, Android security applications only operated at the user level, leaving devices vulnerable to system-level attacks. McAfee removes this security gap with a kernel residing security solution to improve security for the entire Android stack," said the company, in a press statement.

McAfee Embedded Control aims to block unauthorised applications and changes on fixed-function, point-of-service infrastructures, including retail devices, medical devices, industrial control systems, office equipment, gaming devices, automotive, and various military and aerospace devices.

Intel's seven galaxy programming universe

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Software application developers have (to a degree) been able to tap into greater power channels for their applications by relying on additional hardware resources (rather than refining their code as such) for some time now.

Specifically, programmers have been able to "just throw another core at it" and depend upon the availability of extra processing muscle power to drive forward what might at times be inefficiencies in their programming structures.

This is fine for a while, but ultimately all software application developers will need to follow a route towards greater productivity and efficiency despite the continued relevance of Moore's Law and increasing multi-core processor capabilities.

Inside Intel
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Wolfgang Petersen is director of EMEA software solutions group developer relations division for Intel.

Running a department of 60 software engineers and marketing professionals all focused on enabling and optimising software for Intel architecture for developers, Petersen spoke to the Computer Weekly Developer Network to provide some insight into how a company always predominantly known its hardware manufacturing can talk so volubly to a software audience.

What Petersen is trying to drive at the moment is ensuring that the software industry gets its arms around multi-core programming... simply waiting for higher clock speeds and expecting your application to run 30% faster every 18 months does not work any more he argues.

Looking to work at how you can multi-thread your applications and re-design your algorithms to take advantage of new parallelism opportunities is an imperative in Intel's vision of the future-programming universe.

From Petersen's perspective, Intel has only addressed a fraction of the programming universe with the parallelism message so far. It will be impossible to get to the remainder overnight and it is important to remember that, for some applications, just one core is enough.

Can we now define as many as seven different types of programmers in Intel's vision of the developer universe?

1 - Parallel programmers

The problem is that lots of software people say that they "don't want to lose any time thinking" and so they just plough ahead without looking at the wider algorithmic architectural implications.

"When we write programs we used to care less about the underlying hardware. This was the job of the compiler and if you looked at the job the compiler had done afterwards it was sometimes surprising how elegant a job the compiler had done. But sometimes, and this could be as simple as a job related to an IF, THEN, ELSE statement loop, the compiler may not have engineered the structure in hand as intelligently as it might have done. A human programmer will always spend a moment trying to understand whether it is actually the THEN or the ELSE that is most likely to arise and find parallelism efficiencies to bring to light from that point," said Petersen.

2 - Architectural programmers

Intel is working with 12,000 universities worldwide to initiate teaching on how to program in a multicore environment and incorporate more CPU architectural considerations into their work.

3 - Power centric programmers

Petersen is now shifting his focus to look also very closely at power optimisation because of the proliferation of tablets and smartphones.

"Intelligent software design has the ability to reduce power consumption if the program executes more efficiently (and therefore more speedily)... so this is about the ability to have instructions that are capable of switching off parts of the CPU periodically if they are not needed at a particular time to save power," he said.

4 - Database programmers

Intel's vision of an expanding universe of programmer types points us to database programmers also. Firms including Oracle, IBM and SAP are encouraging programmers to physically "code to their platform" inside dedicated environments with specific language controls.

5- Perceptual programmers

Petersen also extends the universe to include so-called perceptual programmers, an Intel term relating to any coders working in what the company has labelled the perceptual computing space where face recognition and hand gestures are incorporated into this still-nascent sphere of HCI and software application development.

Intel is now refining the SDKs intended for software application developers to be able to bring these technologies into being.

The company says that it believes 'perceptual computing' will now play a huge role in the future of human-to-computer interaction -- and isn't just a gimmick shown in movies like Minority Report.

6 - HTML5 programmers

HTML5 programmers also now emerge...

"The promise of HTML5 is that if you program to the correct standards it really will run on any machine - IF it is programmed correctly according to the HTML 5 standard. Program once and run on multiple devices is possible," said Petersen.

7 - Collaborative programmers

The programming universe is probably even larger than these seven disciplines or personality types (or galaxies) as defined here, but Intel's Petersen points to one more. If we look at the need for coders to exhibit exemplary abilities to collaborate and work together on compartmentalised elements of a project, we can see how important the collaborative developer has become.

"There are parallels here with games development. Some focus on video, while others specialise in rendering, storyboards, intelligence, gameplay and many other parts of the total program stack. In the future we will specialisation among programmers as they spread out to be able cope with the demands of the different categories of work," said Petersen.

Do we now recognise a bigger universe of software types working in a wider galaxy of application scenarios and developers for an expanded planet of user requirements?

MDM & the art of strategic data goalscoring

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This is a guest post to the Computer Weekly Developer Network by Yves de Montcheuil, VP of marketing at open source data management and application integration company Talend.

Organisations are increasingly seeing the potential of actively using data to help achieve business objectives - OK, so no big surprise there.

Contradictory & disjointed information

But the ability of MDM technologies to deliver a single version of the truth rather than several versions of contradictory, disjointed information changes this business landscape -- it (potentially) enables organisations to make sense of data and use it to drive competitive edge.
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Collating and efficiently managing data through an MDM system and enabling an accurate picture of their business can have a huge impact on any organisation - even when carried out on a departmental only basis.

However, if real value is to be delivered, a company's rationale for adoption must always link to its strategic objectives - whether around cutting costs, driving performance efficiencies or building market share. It might, for example, want to create new products more efficiently to reduce time-to-market, or cut production costs and better serve its customers in order to reduce churn and deliver revenue growth.

Scoring in elusive goals

To meet such objectives, companies need to do more with their data and to do it faster with fewer resources. This often entails leveraging existing information assets more effectively while simultaneously meeting performance objectives. MDM can help them achieve these seemingly elusive goals.

Essentially, the benefits that MDM can deliver for businesses can be divided into two core areas. First, by delivering a single view of the truth, MDM gives organisations the information they need to make accurate decisions about the business. Second, the tight integration of systems and processes provides performance efficiencies in themselves.

The former capability enables companies to obtain a consistent vision of data across many systems. Being able to produce an accurate representation of the data for analysis potentially enables them to identify areas of inefficiency across the organisation, which could then lead to a series of tactical activities that will contribute to improving performance. Once identified, they can use their MDM capability to achieve these.

For example, they may want to use their single view of the truth to gain insight into customer data to provide better targeted mailing and therefore better customer service, helping them, for example through the enhanced integration MDM delivers, to create one customer list for marketing and another for billing, with the added benefit of cutting costs and driving sales.

Reaping the rewards

MDM helps obtain value from information assets. Organisations need to use this to advance their corporate objectives. Businesses that have control of their data and can bring together disparate information across their enterprise and turn it into "a single version of the truth" will have greater confidence in the decisions they take, using data, to accomplish those broader goals - from improving customer loyalty, to driving sales while reducing marketing costs.

Implementing an MDM-driven business approach can be transformative for any organisation. Increasingly, companies are realising data can be harnessed to revolutionise their business strategy and drive their future success.

It's a small (M2M) world after all

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As we now develop a wide array of M2M implementations that help us build the so-called Internet of Things, the truth is that The Internet of Things is now the Internet of M2M Things.

NOTE: M2M technology supports wired or wireless communication between machines. M2M is used in telemetry, data collection, remote control, robotics, remote monitoring, status tracking, road traffic control, offsite diagnostics and even telemedicine.

Cisco has estimated that M2M communications arising as part of the Internet of Things (IoT for short) is going to "contribute significantly" to a six-fold increase in mobile data traffic by 2017.
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CTO with M2M-specialist company Ciseco Miles Hodkinson blogs recently that his firm's technology was born out of an ambition to say "wireless is easier than wires".

"The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to be as revolutionary as steam power. The IoT provides the ability to digitally network the objects and systems around us that are not computers, phones or tablets; in essence everything else. Its potential goes far beyond the key applications we've been hearing about for years, the self-stocking fridge; the kettle that turns on as you arrive home; the lights or heating controlled from your phone. The real potential is in the creation of systems that have never been seen before. The IoT represents billions of man hours that could be replaced by self-aware products that simply 'do' rather than have to be used, and the fundamental cultural and social shift, when old methods are replaced by automation and autonomy, said Hodkinson.

M2M is everywhere

M2M is everywhere. The http://m2m.com/welcome website exists as a developer community forum for embedded wireless and connected consumer devices. The graphic to the side of this blog shows you the range of M2M Developer Kits on offer today at M2M.com and these come with test SIMs, developer tools and documented support.

M2M really is everywhere. The Indian city of New Delhi will play host to the Smart Device and Content 2013 conference later this March.

"The Indian smart device market is vibrant, with healthy competition and varied offerings in all segments of the market. The Indian telecommunications industry (which supports M2M communication) is one of the fastest growing in the world and India is projected to become the second largest telecom market globally."

M2M is honestly everywhere. The recent Mobile World Congress exhibition saw Ericsson and SAP sign an agreement to jointly market and sell cloud-based M2M solutions and services to enterprises via operators.

The firms suggest that enterprises have faced barriers toward the adoption of M2M solutions, such as lack of complete multi-industry end-to-end offerings and deficiency of suitable global coverage connectivity solutions that are needed by multinational enterprises.

A selection of M2M examples

These new solutions and services being offered as a result of this agreement are intended to help address business processes such as maintenance, remote service, inventory, logistics and road transport management, vending and customer experience management.

Co-CEO of SAP Jim Hagemann Snabe has bullishly stated that his firm will increase adoption of M2M solutions. "Enterprises will benefit from an offering that provides them with everything they need to connect to machines, and helps turn high volumes of data into real-time knowledge and decision-making," he said.

Ericsson chief Hans Vestberg is on the record saying that global M2M service revenue is estimated to reach more than £134 billion by 2017.

"The joint go-to-market model combines the assets of SAP, Ericsson and mobile operators, making it possible for enterprises to effectively connect their enterprise assets across multi-country operations with full integration to existing business processes, along with support for mobile and real-time scenarios," said the firms, in a press statement.

This means that a full end-to-end logistics solution should now also include an M2M connectivity consideration.

Because of M2M, The Internet of Things just became The Internet of Everything and so it's a small (M2M) world after all

The democratisation of programming

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This is a guest blog for the Computer Weekly Application Developer Network
By Adam Seligman, VP of developer relations at salesforce.com

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A few years ago, programming was dominated by people who were typified by their extreme focus and deep expertise in code and systems.

Frequently these guys (and gals) had computer science training and tons of rigorous study time to become an expert. After all, building applications was complex... and there were huge barriers to get the resulting applications into the hands of users, especially business users.

There were a million ideas for better ways to do things in business - but getting those ideas into software required deeply technical experience.

Fast forward to 2013, and everything you know about programming has changed.

New development frameworks have torn down the barriers to creating great applications, making it easier than ever. Sites such as CodeAcademy make it easy to learn Ruby and IFTTT even gives non-programmers the ability to learn the logic of coding. Lego Mindstorms, Arduino and Raspberry Pi bring kids into the "maker culture" today.

Everyone can be a developer - a maker.

How is democratisation of development impacting the world? First, anyone can take ideas and turn them into solutions faster than ever before. New tools and frameworks let anyone make apps, regardless of your background. Kids use Scratch and create interactive apps. Business people can create enterprise cloud apps without a professional programming background. Why spend your time on the basics - whether it's installing tools or provisioning servers - when you can focus exclusively on bringing your great idea to life?

Developer democratisation dawns

Programmers are seeing democratisation in action as well.

Over the last two decades, developers had a small set of programming languages and frameworks to choose from. Organisations tended to approve Java and C#, but not much else.

Now, modern languages and frameworks have evolved that offer radical advances and exciting new choices for programmers. Developers can now pick the frameworks and open source code most useful to their needs and business problem. Whether it's Ruby, Python, or a JVM-based language like Scala, this variety of new tools allows every developer to pick the ones that work best for them, instead of settling on ones that will just make their jobs more complex.

It turns out this will have a huge competitive impact on business. Companies that focus on their customers, and the business cases that can best serve their customers, will win in the market. Whether it's running a business process more efficiently, or putting great apps in the hands of customers, businesses that build the best apps, and regularly deliver innovation through them, will win.

So here's a video of voices from some of these new developers that Seligman speaks of.

Is 'continuous delivery and integration' a developer no-brainer?

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March 2013 is already a good month for software application development 'continuous delivery and integration' tools and their methodologies -- and it's not every turn of the calendar page that you can say that.

Java Platform as a Service (PaaS) company CloudBees has announced an integration initiative with VMware Cloud Foundry.

Developers will now be able to utilise CloudBees DEV@cloud development services to deploy web and mobile applications to the CloudFoundry service.

This in action should in turn have an knock on effect...

... programmers will now be provided with choice among their access to cloud-based development tools including Jenkins, the "highly popular" (says the Jenkins team, but actually it also is anyway) continuous integration server.

NOTE: Jenkins is an open-source continuous integration software tool written in the Javaprogramming language for testing and reporting on isolated changes in a larger code base in real time. The software enables developers to find and solve defects in a code base rapidly and to automate testing of their builds.

From continuous integration to continuous delivery

Also this month there is news of ThoughtWorks commissioning a Forrester survey (325 business and IT pros across the US, UK and Australia) to evaluate whether their current software delivery processes were sufficient to meet the relentless demand for innovation.

The March 2013 study, entitled (and the clue is in the name here guys) "Continuous Delivery: A Maturity Assessment Model," suggested that software development teams and their providers can't deliver new solutions at the rate business leaders want.

As is by some stroke of magical insight into a parallel universe, ThoughtWorks has also been able to use its (completely independently produced although it did pay the analyst firm to do the survey in the first place) results to also inform of the fact that few IT organisations regularly perform advanced continuous delivery practices

So is 'continuous delivery and integration' a developer no-brainer?

NOTE: According to TechTarget's own definitions: continuous integration has evolved since its conception. Originally, a daily build was the standard. Now, the usual rule is for each team member to submit work on a daily (or more frequent) basis and for a build to be conducted with each significant change.

The aforementioned survey states that specifically, more than half (51%) of business leaders expect new software solutions to go from concept to delivery in less than six months.

"Companies recognise that they need to adopt continuous delivery in order to build valuable, high quality products and services rapidly and reliably, and that this capability provides a powerful competitive advantage," states ThoughtWorks principal Jez Humble. "However the survey shows that most companies have some way to go to adopt the practices and culture required to succeed with continuous design and continuous delivery."

To help companies measure their continuous delivery maturity and ultimately identify areas of improvement, the survey proposes an assessment model. For the businesses already practicing continuous delivery, the model will help identify gaps where further improvement can be made.

Why Dubai's developer dream can work

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Dubai is known as one of the more high profile oil rich Emirates of the Gulf region's 10 total Emirates.

Sitting among the seven "united" Arab Emirates (thus forming the UAE), there are a total of nine Emir-led states in the region if we also include Qatar and Kuwait.

NOTE: As readers will know, Bahrain is a Kingdom and Oman is a Sultane -- for more Arabian cultural awareness try Fake Plastic Souks by Alexander McNabb.

Anyways... this last February saw Samsung Electronics host a "developer day" for over 150 programmers in Dubai itself as part of the firm's so-called Samsung Forum.

The developer event was scheduled to run in line with similar events held by Samsung across the globe: Samsung Developer Day at Mobile World Congress and Developer Day events in Tokyo, Cairo and Seoul.
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This is great news if the firm is championing the interest of local regional programmers (irrespective of their actual nationality) for many reasons.

Not only are the Dubai and Cairo markets rich with European and Asian expatriates (both of whom traditionally do well in this field), if local language speaking Arab developers are given the chance to work on everything from the command line to any application's supporting documentation to a greater extent, then this is without question a force for good.

OK so paying the appropriate lip service here, the Samsung event unsurprisingly focused on the new GALAXY Note and GALAXY Camera devices.

The developer event included the introduction of various Samsung smart devices in addition to mobile phones, smart TVs and cameras. It also apparently featured discussions on service development for multi-device convergence environments.

Samsung says that it used this event to release the latest version of its stylus-style S Pen SDK.

TECHNICAL NOTE: The update supports a variety of new Note features such as Air View, which allows users to hover with the S Pen over an email, image gallery, or video to preview the content without having to open it. Samsung also introduced the Open API for Samsung's ChatON messaging service, receiving positive responses from attending developers. The ChatON API enables third-party applications to easily integrate ChatON capabilities, for example enabling users to interact with buddies directly through embedded chat or invite ChatON buddies to play a game by sending an invitation via ChatON messenger.

Samsung has been characterised in the past for having local operations in places like Dubai that have a mix of local workers, but a management board always headed up by South Korean nationals.

Any advances a firm like Samsung makes to enlist more local talent is good news.

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