Saturday, 22 November 2003

Monday, 17 November 2003

ZDNet UK - Insight - Lifting the lid on Longhorn

The desktop is where Microsoft rule. They didn't get there through robust, flexible systems, or efficient code. They got there through ease of use - both to programmers and end-users. It's like an inverse telecoms model: they own the 'last mile' but not the bulk of the infrastructure. But the last mile is where the money is, and it's where change is most expensive, effective and visible (nobody gives a poo if the transatlantic backbone doubles in size, or if Unix Oses are 5x faster and 2x cheaper, except for sys admins, and most of them don't want the desktop config hassle on 5000 desktops).

They want the internet to be their new OS. It's quite clever the way they're going about it - by exploiting the desktop peer model. As long as the guy at the other end has the same handset make as me, we can do all sorts of clever & fun things, regardless of what's in the middle.

Where they may come unstuck is the underlying presumption that everyone will want to upgrade their handset. But even in that instance, they could give it away (but not opensource it). Could you imagine if M$ gave away the next client version of their OS? Which Intel users *wouldn't* have it on their desktop? They could still make their lucrative money out of bolt-on modules: want video IM? Rent it. Want peer-to-peer music sharing? Rent it.

I particularly liked this quote:-
'The XML programming model is separate from Windows and is not packaged with desktop systems, but WinFX will be integrated into Longhorn, according to Microsoft. Once that happens, "it will be like Microsoft taking one hand from behind its back in its boxing match with Java companies," said Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "Potentially every PC will ship .Net-ready, which will make it much more interesting" for application developers, he added.'

A fine example of M$ suppressing end-user expectations. Mac OS has always shipped with an excellent dev environment. Also, OSX supports XML-SOAP natively - you can make SOAP calls from Applescript!

I also like the ClickOnce approach: rather than just the OS bugging you with updates every time you look at the machine, all of your applications will do it. Again, MacOS can do this already - many apps, even trivial ones, have a 'Check for Update' option on the menu. It's just a SOAP call after all. The key is discretion: OSX has it, M$ controls it and rents it to the highest bidder.

Saturday, 15 November 2003

SecurityFocus HOME Infocus: Banking Scam Revealed

Interesting article (well, cyber-anthropologically speaking) on the real, human effects of spam, as discovered by a bunch of investigative hackers.

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

ZDNet UK - News - Media industry quietly co-opts P2P

Finally, some firms get the right idea. Just as when Records and tapes came out, the companies moaned & sued, then adapted & cornered the new market. The difference this time is that we are dealing with pure IP - intellectual property in infinitely replicable (digital) form. In a distribution system that is virtually perfect. So what will distributors add? How will they control a frictionless medium?

Saturday, 1 November 2003

How To Become A Hacker

Above doc is in a similar vein to the original Hacker's Manifesto, albeit more instructive and a little tongue in cheek.

Friday, 31 October 2003

Slashdot | Microsoft's new CLI

Microsoft going back to the command line. It's the 3 ages of technology again, isn't it?
Stage 1: a prototype, effectively - barely fulfilling design criteria, and certainly not robustly.
Stage 2: over-design. They've got the hang of it, they've got a market, so they pack it full of features until it becomes cumbersome.
Stage 3: just right - removal of extraneous features.

To a unix-head stage 3 is the command line. I'm no unix head, but I do appreciate the elegant simplicity of Unix: everything is in a file. So, all the settings are in a file, which you can tweak either through some pretty GUI screens with checkboxes and tabs, or through the CLI by editing the file directly. Non-Unix people say, "but unix is so user-unfriendly. Who wants a command line? It's so indecipherable." My response, as one who is not a techie but has a sincere respect for techies and technology, is simply if you're playing with settings you should explicitly know what they do.

The other advantage of a file-based system (as in, you tweak files directly, rather than use wizards that give no indication of which file you're tweaking), is that you can make changes easily reversible by the use of comments - something woefully lacking in GUIs. Finally, it also means you just need Telnet to tweak any online server in the world. None of this Remote Windows Desktop foolishness. Mind you, whether this degree of tweakability is healthy in an OS with Windows' security record is questionable.

Monday, 13 October 2003

silicon.com - ITU 03 - Microsoft wants to make Wi-Fi hotspots more secure

I would say 'about bloody time', but instead I have to say that network security should stay on the network, not as part of some OS somewhere.

Part of the problem with the microsoft OS paradigm is that the OS is treated with such a degree of profundity, rather than the basic enabler between software and hardware that it should be. Most non-technical people actually believe the OS is the graphical bit, the user interface. And this suits Microsoft perfectly. Even those banes of M$ strategy, Linux users, tend to play into their hands by playing up the OS wars, rather than changing the argument and putting OSes in their place as merely the bit of software that gets hardware to talk to software.

If there's a problem with the network (eg. it's not secure), it should stay a network problem and the network kit vendors should solve their problem. But software is cheaper than hardware, and evolves faster - that's why we have it - so invariably the hardware people leave it to the software people to set their standards and pick the most viable one to implement in hardware. Unfortunately, this leads to a self-perpetuating lead for the prominent OS vendor, since, more often than not, the most viable standard is the most popular, as implemented in the most popular OS, rather than the best technology.

Sunday, 28 September 2003

The Register, 26/08/2003: Microsoft: a threat to global IT and job security?
V interesting article speculating about a piece of security research slating Microsoft, for which the author lost his job. Interesting discussion - esp. about possible remedies.

Friday, 26 September 2003

CNN.com - Makers of Kazaa suing record labels - Sep. 24, 2003

Now, this should make things interesting. I wonder if the RIAA will show as much respect to software copyright as they expect everyone to show to music copyright? Live by the sword, die by the sword...

Wednesday, 24 September 2003

Slashdot | Is There An OS On My Hard Drive?

Now this is how OSes should have always been sold. Buy your kit, then choose the hard disk, with whichever OS you like on it. Windows as standard has just made the whole world less secure - a bit like US culture as standard. The best is not the same as none better.

Report: Microsoft dominance poses security risk | CNET News.com

Now, here's a tyre shredder in the path of M$'s drive on security. In their defence, security through obscurity is not security: sure, their OS is a target, but that's a reason for them to fix things. Most security experts will tell you that if you want real security, look elsewhere. I suppose their concern is that people don't realise how unsecure their systems are with M$ products.

Tuesday, 23 September 2003

BW Online | September 29, 2003 | Howard Rheingold, Author of Smart Mobs

I remember reading a much earlier book of his describing the early days of the internet, and the uses which people were putting it to. Future historians will look back on this guy as the Tacitus of the Internet.

Wednesday, 17 September 2003

ZDNet UK - News - Another survey rates Microsoft cheaper than Linux

I'm as sceptical as the next anti-M$ person, but the fact remains that linux on the desktop PC isn't in the market. Where I see it potentially making headroads is through the network admin and applications markets. Most corporate users use maybe 5 apps on their systems. If you remove the need for these apps to be MS-based, users don't care which desktop they're running. But IT managers still do, so you need to beef up the enterprise desktop admin tools too.

Then, who cares what OS you're running? That's how it always should have been. To use your car analogy, who cares what engine management system they have in their car? Most people don't even know.

Wednesday, 9 July 2003

It was only a matter of time, I suppose - nearly a year, in both cases. A year of microcomputer wonderment and dismay.

Last summer I bought an iBook. OS X.2 was the dog's proverbials: a unix that was more user-friendly than Windows. True consumer computing. Nothing, it seemed, could trouble this little bundle of fun, barring the odd quirky software update. Contrary to popular belief, it was cheap, and excellent application software was not hard to find - most of it better than Windows equivalent (eg. Entourage vs. Outlook).

The iBook actually changed the way I used computers: with PCs I have always been an inveterate tweaker, yet with the Mac it just worked, so I left it alone. In fact it was too easy to use in some cases: I bought a bluetooth dongle and nearly sent it back because it didn't include Mac drivers on the CD. The kind gentleman in the shop informed this bristling (at the prospect of hardware mac-phobia) fool that it didn't need any drivers. "Just plug it in and go to the preferences panel. You'll see a new Bluetooth menu. It will also appear under Networks as a new network device." Dohhh. Having sheepishly walked home and done what he said, I had my t68i phone syncing perfectly with the iBook, the iPod and my .Mac account - all at once!

I have a Windows iPod, just because I wanted it to be compatible with my Windows PC. I never actually use it on that for music - oh no. I have iTunes. Likewise, I never even saw the point of camcorders (except as weapons of mass embarrassment) until I started mucking about with iMovie. Very effective, very easy, and included. Sure, MS have released Windows Movie Maker (I think it's called), and when I looked at it, it starkly reminded me of iMovie 1.

All, it seemed, was perfect in Macland. Even the company struck me as an intelligent mover in this industry: it had focused on hardware and design, and borrowed and shared the rest. Unix-based OS (with their own design elements), adoption of Rendezvous, Bluetooth, 802.11, Java, WebDAV, Apache - all these open standards and platforms. Bliss.

Until the niggles crept in.

It started unobtrusively: 2-way tune transfer on iPods - understandable, given the Music Industry's fear of having its collusive rights to print money curbed by a free market. iPod revolutionary, but respectful of current thinking. I could go with that. There are tools that do this, but clearly Apple could not include the functionality in their music software product. Then it became frustratingly, obviously, tedious: the sorts of things that you would think were so easy to improve, yet seemingly not commercially worthy of fixing. Eg. Backup not having multiple backup sets. iSync not syncing Notes. iCal not webDAVing properly.

Then the real bugbear struck: iDVD. This excellent piece of software enables one to put their iMovie-spun vids and iPhoto-adjusted piccies onto a DVD, with chapters and title screens and all the other pretty stuff you get on a commercial DVD - simplified so that amateurs like us could use it. Excellent, I thought. Time to by a DVD Writer. I opted for an external firewire writer from LaCie. Very nice package, very capable & quite future-proof. I then discovered that iDVD only works for internal Superdrives. What? I hear you say,
only for Superdrives? Indeed. But surely they had it on the packaging? Well, not exactly, no. It does say 'superdrive' under system requirements, but does not stipulate ONLY superdrive. The usual case of marketing over information: admission only by omission.

But why? I thought it could be that DVD Writer manufacturers were expected to write their own drivers for it, and most hadn't because they had their own software they wanted to tout. Then I read somewhere that one of the DVD writer manufacturers had done this, and Apple had nixed it in the first week for sales. Seems to me its a case of Apple being a bit too Apple for its own good: the sort of protectionism that lost it the PC war. As ever with such things, it's important to stand back and weigh up what they stand to gain by this action, and what they stand to lose. Gains: rich people with more money than sense buying a Superdriven Powerbook and running... iDVD on it? 1. if they have the money, they might as well buy the $500 DVD Creator Pro (which can use external DVDs); 2. do they really want the bulk of their customer base to consist of buyers with more money than sense? Losses: an insidious feeling among loyal Mac-ites that Apple are still capable of technological hubris, and that while MS may have sown up the OS market, PCs still have a more free, possibly less constrictive apps market.

To borrow Neal Stephenson's analogy: Apple, stop trying to make station wagons.

Postscript: luckily, I was using a borrowed copy of iDVD and didn't stump up the £40 asking price for it (as part of iLife). The DVD Writer was refunded by those lovely people at Micro Anvika.

Friday, 23 May 2003

Testing from web page entry... somehow got to tie this in with my Radio Userland blog