computers

What's that nesting on your desktop?

Shelley Powers on discovering that Google Desktop has managed to install itself on her computer "like a benevolent computer virus":

Ew! Ew! Get it off me! Get if OFF me!

ROTFLMAO!!

RIP Microsoft?

A few weeks ago, I started telling friends my wild and crazy prediction that Apple will own a majority share of the personal computer market within three years. Apple's biggest weakness is in their vertical monopoly over their own hardware. OSX is fabulous, but their hardware is crap, let's face it. You simply have to figure the cost of Apple Care into any Mac purchase because you can count on some sort of hardware problem.

Despite this -- and who's to say Apple won't change its tune regarding hardware? -- Apple's star is definitely rising, while Microsoft's is in a self-inflicted crash and burn.

Paul Graham, in is post, "Microsoft is Dead," has the quote of the month:

Microsoft's biggest weakness is that they still don't realize how much they suck.

The same could be said for a number of companies. Graham recognizes that a number of folks will scoff at these assertions.

Half the readers will say that Microsoft is still an enormously profitable company, and that I should be more careful about drawing conclusions based on what a few people think in our insular little "Web 2.0" bubble. The other half, the younger half, will complain that this is old news.

Graham still succumbs to the notion that all "applications will live on the web—not just email, but everything, right up to Photoshop." Such black-and-white thinking may provide a poetic flourish, or add drama to pronouncements on the future, but my own sense is that the general public is going to start noticing the pound of privacy flesh web companies, like Paul Graham's employer, demand for the convenience of the services they offer.

The desktop is not dead, but it is changing. So is the web (duh), and just as desktop übercompany Microsoft is feeling the heat for their business practices and strategic decisions, we might see the same thing happening to the übercompanies of the web before too long.

WiMax song by Samsung

WiMAX is on the way, finally.

The Mobile Intelligent Terminal was unveiled at a Samsung-sponsored industry conference on Mobile WiMax, which is just coming into use and promises fast broadband connections over long distances.

The device weighs about a pound and contains a fold-out keyboard, 5-inch screen and 30 gigabyte hard drive. It runs the full version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system and also supports the CDMA mobile phone communications standard, which is used in South Korea and other countries including the United States.

Kim Hun-bae, Samsung vice president for mobile research and development, told reporters that the gadget is the world's first WiMax device that also works as a mobile phone. It also can access the Internet, make video phone calls and display television as well as other video.

The "MIT" is so new that googling up the model number, SPH-P9000, yields nothing, not even a hit on Samsung's own site, where they promote their WiMax products, but not this new mega-phone-thing.

(Is "MIT" really going to be the acronym? "Hold a MIT in your mitt!" "Communicate mit MIT!" "MIT me sometime!")

Never mind the funny-looking device — I mean, check out this AP photo [pop-up window] — I'm really excited that WiMAX is almost here.

WiMAX is a wireless digital communications system, also known as IEEE 802.16, that is intended for wireless "metropolitan area networks". WiMAX can provide broadband wireless access (BWA) up to 30 miles (50 km) for fixed stations, and 3 - 10 miles (5 - 15 km) for mobile stations. In contrast, the WiFi/802.11 wireless local area network standard is limited in most cases to only 100 - 300 feet (30 - 100m).

With WiMAX, WiFi-like data rates are easily supported, but the issue of interference is lessened. WiMAX operates on both licensed and non-licensed frequencies, providing a regulated environment and viable economic model for wireless carriers.

WiMAX can be used for wireless networking in much the same way as the more common WiFi protocol. WiMAX is a second-generation protocol that allows for more efficient bandwidth use, interference avoidance, and is intended to allow higher data rates over longer distances.

This is going to change more than cell phones. [More on Wikipedia.]

It all makes my new Palm 700p seem rather archaic.

1.5 reasons to try Firefox

If you haven't been running one of the release candidates already, you may want to get the latest and perhaps best browser to date, Firefox 1.5, now that it's been officially released. And really, if you're using another browser -- especially the buggy and unsafe Internet Explorer -- you owe it to yourself to at least try Firefox, which is safer for your machine.

That's reason one.

As a designer, Firefox is a pleasurable development in the online world. I can't speak for others, but I think websites look better in Firefox. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer, thanks to Microsoft's defiance of web standards, continues to be a nightmare for web designers who waste additional hours upon hours to hack all the Internet Explorer quirks in CSS so that IE doesn't break the website altogether.

That's the other half of a reason. Actually, it's another full reason, in my book, but how can aesthetics trump security? So as a computer person, I urge you to switch to Firefox browser as a step towards increased security. As a designer, I beg you, please, help make IE just fade away. Please!

Sony temporarily halts use of crippleware, but Homeland Security still is not pleased

Nothing like lawsuits to get a response, if only for the moment.

Stung by continuing criticism, the world's second-largest music label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, promised Friday to temporarily suspend making music CDs with antipiracy technology that can leave computers vulnerable to hackers.

Sony defended its right to prevent customers from illegally copying music but said it will halt manufacturing CDs with the "XCP" technology as a precautionary measure. "We also intend to re-examine all aspects of our content protection initiative to be sure that it continues to meet our goals of security and ease of consumer use," the company said in a statement.

Note that customer satisfaction is not mentioned. We don't even get a crocodile tear.

I must say, I find their contempt for the customer -- or, at best, disregard for customer satisfaction -- astonishes me.

It apparently also offended the sensibilities of the new assistant secretary for policy in the Department of Homeland Security, Stewart Baker:

"I wanted to raise one point of caution as we go forward, because we are also responsible for maintaining the security of the information infrastructure of the United States and making sure peoples' [and] businesses' computers are secure. ... There's been a lot of publicity recently about tactics used in pursuing protection for music and DVD CDs in which questions have been raised about whether the protection measures install hidden files on peoples' computers that even the system administrators can’t find."

In a remark clearly aimed directly at Sony and other labels, Stewart continued: "It's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property -- it's not your computer. And in the pursuit of protection of intellectual property, it's important not to defeat or undermine the security measures that people need to adopt in these days.

"If we have an avian flu outbreak here and it is even half as bad as the 1918 flu epidemic, we will be enormously dependent on being able to get remote access for a large number of people, and keeping the infrastructure functioning is a matter of life and death and we take it very seriously."

Now that's an angle I hadn't thought of.

More on Sony DRM and infected music CDs

Following up on what I just posted, it seems that Sony BMG is now being sued for damage their secret RootKit software has done to PCs:

Sony's now infamous decision to use system destabilizing DRM malware in order to "fight piracy" (despite it being shockingly easy to defeat) has earned Sony a lawsuit or three. A new class action suit has been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, another is expected in New York this week, and there have been a handful of rumblings in other countries, as well.

In California, the class action suit alleges that Sony's DRM has caused harm to computers, and that the company failed to disclose precisely what the DRM technology would do to users' computers. According to sources, the suit alleges three distinct violations of California law, including violations of statutes relating to deceptive trade practices and obfuscated technological measures deemed to be anti-consumer. The suit seeks an injunction against the sale of the effected CDs as well as monetary damages for those who purchased the discs.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also is considering legal action and is seeking information from affected customers.

What's more, now the "Stinx-E trojan" has appeared to exploit the Sony DRM software's code to open a back door to PCs.

And not only that, Mark Russinovich reports that the DRM software itself is harder to uninstall than many malicious viruses.

What's even more, Cory at BoingBoing links to Darren Dittrich's report that the Sony CDs also infect Macs:

I recently purchased Imogen Heap's new CD (Speak for Yourself), an RCA Victor release, but with distribution credited to Sony/BMG. Reading recent reports of a Sony rootkit, I decided to poke around. In addition to the standard volume for AIFF files, there's a smaller extra partition for "enhanced" content. I was surprised to find a "Start.app" Mac application in addition to the expected Windows-related files. Running this app brings up a long legal agreement, clicking Continue prompts you for your username/password (uh-oh!), and then promptly exits. Digging around a bit, I find that Start.app actually installs 2 files: PhoenixNub1.kext and PhoenixNub12.kext.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of anyone installing kernel extensions on my Mac. In Sony's defense, upon closer reading of the EULA, they essentially tell you that they will be installing software. Also, this is apparently not the same technology used in the recent Windows rootkits (made by XCP), but rather a DRM codebase developed by SunnComm, who promotes their Mac-aware DRM technology on their site.

EFF has a partial list of infected CDs:

Sony BMG's contempt for the consumer

I confess I was unaware of this until I received David Pogue's Circuits column in my in-box today:

The story goes like this. Starting in June 2004, Sony BMG records began copy-protecting its pop-music CD's. Over the months, the company has used several software schemes for preventing you, the customer, from making illegal copies of its discs. But 20 albums are protected by a scheme devised by a company called First 4 Internet-and it's caused an incredible online furor.
These CD's, all bearing "Content Protected" labels on the packaging (meaning "copy protected"), do something very sneaky if you try to play them on a Windows PC: they install a proprietary watchdog program that prevents you from copying the CD more than twice. (On a Macintosh or Linux machine, these CD's play just fine, without any copy protection.)

Last week, a programmer and blogger named Mark Russinovich dug a little deeper, and found out something disturbing: the Sony watchdog program not only installs itself deep in the core of Windows-it's what's called a rootkit-but it also makes itself invisible.

Now while, as a copyright holder, I can appreciate Sony BMG's anxiety over illegal copying of music to which they own the copyright, but to install stealth software on people's computers? As Pogue says, that is "creepy."

It also speaks to the attitude that seems to predominate megacorporations today: the customer is a problem to be managed.

Why Sony BMG thought it would be a good idea to pre-emptively treat people like criminals, I have no idea. It sounds like the lawyers are running the show there.

And why they thought they could get away with trespassing on people's computers, installing secret malware that actually disables computer function ... well, that just boggles my mind.

The contempt of it!

And what ices it is Sony's refusal to apologize for this invasive, offensive and contemptuous behavior towards the customer.

I was also surprised at how dismissive Sony BMG and First 4 Internet seem to be. "It's a tempest in a teapot," Mr. Gilliat-Smith says. "It's benign content protection. It's not malware, it's not spyware-it's innocent.

["]Consumers, for eight months, have been using these discs with positive feedback. When the issue arose, we addressed it very quickly."

I wondered if he could even understand why consumers might feel a bit violated. I pointed out that the usual damage-control plan for public-relations disasters (see also Tylenol; Perrier; Pentium bug) is not to haughtily dismiss customer fears, but to apologize profusely.

But the closest thing Mr. Gilliat-Smith would say is, "We understand what the concern was, but there was no intent. We reacted as quickly as we could, took responsive issues. And now, hopefully, we move on."

Translation: Hey, I stopped hitting you! Whaddayagonnadoabowdit?

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