Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Microsoft tries taste-test with Vista doubters

Vista taste test From WinInfo Daily News 30/07/08:

Not surprisingly, Microsoft's recent "blind taste test" of Windows Vista has yielded the kind of PR bonanza that Microsoft couldn't beg, borrow, or steal just a few weeks ago. This week, the company released a slew of videos showing some of the 140 consumers videotaped in San Francisco using Vista for the first time. But the users weren't told they were using Vista, as they were selected specifically because they believed that Vista wasn't any good. Instead, these people believed they were using a future Windows version, code-named Windows "Mojave."

The comments made by these individuals are emblematic of the problems Microsoft now faces when it tries to market Vista to a world that, apparently, has already made up its mind about the OS. "I heard negative things; I never tried it myself," one woman says.
"I wouldn't touch the thing." "It's horrible, it has so many problems." "I've heard nothing but bad things about Vista, really." On and on it goes. On a scale from 1 to 10, the average pre-rating for Vista was 4.4, Microsoft says.

Then, the users were shown "Mohave" and walked through (Vista) features like backup and restore, parental controls, recording TV, and making DVD movies. The comments changed dramatically. "Wow!" "I like that security feature." (Breathlessly) "That's great." "It's awesome." "Really cool." "It's really impressive." "It's totally different from what I heard it would be like." "It's an awesome program, but you have to see it for yourself." The average rating after the hands-on demonstration was 8.5. "Many would have rated it higher, but they wanted more time to play with it themselves," Microsoft notes.

Most tellingly, perhaps, not one of the 140 participants rated Vista lower than their initial pre-rating after having actually used the OS. And 94 percent of respondents rated Vista more highly.

Microsoft should have done something like this say, 6 months ago, at least. Vista has suffered an inordinate amount of bad press based on staggering misperceptions, vacuous sniping and groundless complaints – almost all originating from the extreme anti-Microsoft sect. The notorious ‘switcher’ ads ran by Apple have gone a good way in fanning those flames, further unfairly tainting people’s impressions of Vista. The Apple fanatics lemmings who live cosily in their chamber of blissful ignorance and unjustified pomposity make up a good portion of that sect, of course. Don’t worry: you’re not alone - I hate them too!

But seriously, I don’t consider myself a Microsoft-lover and I recognise that Vista isn’t perfect. Still, the Vista-haters out there who go around touting their mindless misperceptions just kill me. Suffice to say that Vista-haters who carelessly strike up a conversation to try and indoctrinate me around to their way of thinking, invariably wish they never started.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Another Facebook fiasco – here we go again


facebook privacy disaster From 16/07/08:

Facebook has accidentally revealed personal information about its members.

The social networking site divulged the dates of birth of many of its 80 million active users, even those who had requested that the information remained confidential.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, explained that the information was exposed during a public beta test of Facebook's new design.

"I was shocked to see people's full date of birth revealed, even though I knew they had their privacy set up correctly to supposedly hide the information." he said.

I’m not even the slightest bit shocked at this news; in fact, I’m surprised it wasn’t something more serious. With the social networking/web 2.0 wave that has swept the world in the last year and a half, people have thrown all sorts of personal information up on social networking sites without much regard to the consequences.

My gripe here is the principle and not the specific circumstances: revealing someone’s date of birth is hardly the end of the world but let’s not forget, it wasn’t meant to happen. What other personal information that people have entrusted with social networking sites might leak out to all and sundry? This is just the tip of the iceberg, people. It really is.

And BTW, what’s the deal with the new design: it doesn’t look that much different to me. Worst of all, from what I read, it’s going to mean even more Facebook oriented apps and widgets coming down the pike. You mean there weren’t enough already?! Oh great!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Mosley wins privacy case - starts libel proceedings

Max Mosley Wins From 25/07/08:

Max Mosley has launched libel proceedings against the News of the World over allegations made in its edition the week after its initial expose on his sex life.

The FIA president won his high-profile privacy case against the British tabloid on Thursday and was awarded £60,000 damages and costs after the High Court ruled that his privacy had been breached when the newspaper revealed lurid details about his private life in March.

The verdict also refuted the newspaper’s claims that his activities with prostitutes had Nazi overtones.

Things were looking very bleak for Mosley back at the end of March when the story of his ‘S&M orgy in a Chelsea flat’ first broke. Since then, he’s successfully faced a vote of confidence by the FIA on June 3rd - thereby keeping his position as head of the FIA - and was yesterday awarded a record amount of damages in respect of his privacy case against the New of the World. The untold damage that Max’s reputation suffered from the tabloid's expose cannot, of course, be remedied by money; in fact, nothing short of a time machine would manage that. Nevertheless, Mosley’s now setting out to right the wrongs he deems himself to have suffered by not only suing the News of the World for libel, but is also pursuing claims against German and French tabloids.  Good on him!

And yeah, Jackie Stewart is still adding his two cents worth to the effect that Mosley should resign. Blah, blah.  Give it a bone, Jackie – we’ve heard it all before.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Death of the 'TV set'

TV FutureFrom the Times 21/06/08:

Two years ago, it seemed impossible that the internet could ever replace the television as the hub of home entertainment. Now it's common to see groups of youths gathered round YouTube, or swapping viral clips from Big Brother rather than bothering with the whole tawdry televised affair. Cheap and easy broadband has made internet TV possible; and for those who still prefer their giant plasma screens to their PCs, new-generation televisions are coming with web browsers built in.

I remember that only recently Leo Laporte and Amber Macarthur from Net @ Night were having just this discussion. They opined that the internet had already made substantial inroads to TV's previously unchallenged audience levels and further, net-vision would definitely take over from regular ‘TV’. That might, perhaps, sound a tad farfetched but is it really? When you think about the monumental growth and importance that the internet enjoys today, it’s not that tough to believe. So will we soon be in an omnipresent, always-on inter-connected world where everything is connected to everyone and vice-versa? Where TV shows are available anytime, anywhere on virtually any device?  Well, we’re certainly heading that way.

But what is TV anyway? Is it a method of content delivery, a bit of hardware or the very content itself? Advances such as iplayer and other online catch-up services for regular ‘TV’ content, are already blurring the conventional perception of ‘TV’. Isn’t TV 21st century style just the availability of entertainment-based content by whatever means on a wide range of devices? I mean, I watch ‘TV shows’ on my ipod without feeling the need to sit myself in front of a screen in the living room. TV, as we knew it, might already be dead.

As an aside, I’ve said for several years that I could gladly survive without a TV and in fact did during two years of my degree, although, to be fair, I was abroad for one of those so could hardly have taken it with me. I could have tried, I suppose, but the baggage handlers wouldn’t have liked it! I certainly wouldn’t, however, be nearly as happy surviving without the internet for any length of time. After all, being without it for the first week of living here in the new house nearly killed me.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Great iPhone ad

Given that the world has gone iPhone mad again recently with the release of the 3G model, I was particularly amused to see these ‘honest gadget ads that won’t be convincing many people to buy anything’.

Great stuff!

iphone 3G

Monday, 21 July 2008

Allegations stack up against Intel

EU competition - Intel From the Financial Times 17/07/08:

Having carried out raids in 2005, the European Commission formally accused Intel last year of trying to do deals with PC makers to push AMD out of the central processing unit business.

Now, according to the regulator, Intel has been sent a supplementary charge sheet, alleging that it engaged in three additional elements of abusive conduct.

The first was to have provided “substantial rebates” to a leading European computer retailer, on the condition that it sold only Intel-based PCs. The second was that Intel made payments to induce a manufacturer to delay the planned launch of a product line using an AMD-based processor.

Thirdly, the Commission claimed, Intel had provided substantial rebates to the same manufacturer on the condition that it obtain all its laptop CPUs from Intel.

As a rooter for the underdog, I’ve always liked AMD and, if memory serves me correctly, have owned at least one computer with an AMD processor inside. Just one, mind, and that’s going back a few years; for a long time I haven’t recommended an AMD processor to anyone who has the option of going for an Intel Duo or Quad Core chip. After all, why the hell would you?

So while Intel are yet to be found guilty, there usually isn’t this much smoke without a substantial smouldering somewhere behind the scenes. If the allegations of foul play are justified, it makes it ironic that Intel went on to completely out-innovate their rivals, starting firstly with the Centrino line of chips and then the Core 2 Duo range which wiped the proverbial floor with their fledgling competitor. AMD, as it stands today, are nowhere in the processor market and the company is a complete mess; they’ve just got rid of their CEO for, as Paul Thurrott reported, “someone who hasn't (yet) botched the company's attempted comeback”.

So will Intel be (eventually) found guilty and slapped with a 10% global revenue fine? Probably.

Will that be enough to save the floundering AMD? Almost certainly not.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Open Source Law Student

open source student As I edge ever closer to the dreaded LLM territory, I’ve been giving increasing thought to an idea I had earlier this year re my computer needs on this course and whether using open source solutions is a viable option. Can a law student successfully get by with just free open source and cloud-based options and still turn in the multitude of essays and other work required? Would I really trust Open Office with my precious dissertation or, God help me, Google Docs? Is either option even man enough for the job? Given that the latter doesn’t even support the inclusion of footnotes, I think we can quickly answer that.

So as the world heads further and further down the path of the cloud computing paradigm, much has been made of whether the traditional desktop apps are already becoming obsolete. Opinions differ of course, though I think the consensus would fall on the side of ‘we’re not there yet’. Probably, not by a long shot.

I’m certainly very curious as to whether I can survive studying an LLM using just open source software, underpinned by a battery of online cloud-based services. I certainly don’t have the unwavering confidence to place all my eggs in the open source basket and will be dual booting with Vista. But that being the case, will I resist the temptation of resorting to the tried and tested commercial programs from Microsoft, Adobe and the rest? I think I can guess the answer but it still promises to be an interesting experiment. Albeit possibly a short one.

While I haven’t definitively decided on the programs and services I’ll be using, my proposed line-up looks something like this:

  • OS: Ubuntu – Hardy Heron or Opensuse 11..... probably the former.
  • Office Productivity: Open Office ...If I hate writer, there’s always Abiword I suppose .... :-\
  • Email: Google’s Gmail – I’ve been using this since mid 2004 anyway!
  • Calendaring: Google Calendar
  • Web Browser: Firefox 3.x – again I’ve been using Firefox as my primary browser since early 2004!

Roll on September so we can get this party started. Or something like that! Sigh.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Another police visit – what MUST the neighbours think?

pc Somewhat worryingly, we had a second visit from the police earlier today. The first came a couple of weeks ago when a policewoman called looking for a previous tenant. After suffering the ignominy of struggling to get the front door open – never a good sign – I then had to explain that we knew nothing of the ‘wanted man’. Knowing better than to ask what Mr X was ‘wanted for’, I had to let my imagination fill in the gaps: needless to say, we’ve been viewing that slight hump in the back lawn with renewed suspicion all afternoon.

Of course, it never looks good when you have a police car parked outside your house and an officer ring the bell but I thankfully refrained from yanking him through the front door in a Hyacinth Bucket manner. Given that we couldn’t offer him any useful information he was soon on his way after exchanging pleasantries and apologising for disturbing us - what a nice chap! Just to add to the embarrassment, though, he made a point of taking an inordinately long time before driving off. And yes, I’m sure those net curtains where twitching left, right and centre all along the close. Typical!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Microsoft patch hoses computers running ZoneAlarm

zonealarm ms update pic copyFrom 10.07.08:

Hundreds of thousands of ZoneAlarm firewall users have been locked out of the internet by Microsoft's latest round of software updates.

Microsoft released four 'important' fixes as part of its regular Patch Tuesday update, one of which left ZoneAlarm users without web access.

The MS08-037 fix is designed to plug a vulnerability in Windows' implementations of the Domain Name System protocol, but has been responsible for "compatibility issues " with ZoneAlarm.

I was afflicted with just this problem yesterday morning when I booted up my XP machine. The previous day I’d been playing around with a couple of new programs as well as installing the 4 patches Microsoft pushed out for July so immediately thought that one of them was responsible. Having established my internet connection was just fine on another computer, I ran a system restore which rolled my machine’s operating system and program files back to a previous state. Thankfully, this finally allowed me to connect to the internet. It was only later in the day that I became aware of the ZoneAlarm problem and that this was the cause of my earlier troubles.

While Zone Labs have now released an updated version of their firewall and internet security suite, they offered three workarounds in the meantime:

1. Uninstall the MS patch – what I effectively did

2. Change the internet security zone setting down from ‘high’ to ‘medium’.

3. Adding the relevant ISP's DNS servers to ZoneAlarm's trusted zone.

For what it’s worth, this problem only hit me since I left Automatic Updates fully on since I last did a clean install of Windows. Previously, I had been in the habit of leaving the setting on ‘Notify me but don't automatically download or install’ after the 2006 debacle when Microsoft started pushing out WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) via Automatic Updates. As Brian Livingston commented in his article, Dump Windows Update - use alternatives, “the code, which qualifies as spyware under any objective definition, was programmed to contact Microsoft's servers every 24 hours.”

That didn’t sit well with me at all. In case the Redmond giant tried to pull a similar stunt, I adopted a ‘wait and see’ policy for a few days or so after patches were released to observe how they were faring on the machines of the millions of users who jumped straight in and got the updates immediately. That way, if anyone’s system was going to be hosed, it shouldn’t have been mine. Suffice I say after this experience, I’ll be returning to my previous ‘patch practice’ and holding off for a while before installing the monthly batch of patches.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I’m going to be sticking with ZoneAlarm. For one, this fiasco wasn’t actually their fault and now the dust has settled, I don’t think apportioning blame is the best thing for anyone here. Software conflictions remain a fact of life and as long as there are remedies ASAP, it’s something we all just need to live with. While ZoneAlarm isn’t perfect, I’m not convinced there are more effective products that come with fewer overall grievances to choose from right now.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Wacky Wednesday: Bats, bras and Mosley's High Court action

Girl finds bat in bra

Bat in BraFrom BBC News 9/7/08:

A teenager who thought movement in her underwear was caused by her vibrating mobile phone found a bat curled up asleep in her  bra.

Abbie Hawkins, 19, of Norwich, had been wearing the bra for five hours when she plucked up the courage to investigate.

When she did, she found a baby bat in [the] padding in her 34FF bra. The hotel receptionist said she was shocked but felt bad for removing the "cuddly" bat. "It looked cosy and comfortable and I was sorry for disturbing it," she said.

You what? And she thought it was her phone? Maybe she makes a habit of leaving it in there – it does away with the need for a phone holder I suppose. But a bat!? I wonder what other wildlife she’s got nestling down there?

Women confirm Mosley shenanigans had no Nazi theme

From BBC News 8/7/08:

Four women who took part in a sadomasochistic session with motorsport boss Max Mosley have denied there was any Nazi-themed role-play.

Witness D, a student in her 20s who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said the paper's account of what had happened on 28 March in a Chelsea basement flat was "absurd".

She told the court: "I am particularly appalled at the accusations that our scenarios had any Nazi connotation or overtones. No Nazi images, uniforms or material were used."

On 28 March, she said, she felt she was "amongst friends, doing something I enjoy and all those involved enjoy".

Maybe Max will survive this after all. The case continues.....


Sunday, 6 July 2008

New month, new house new......... fruit bowl?

I thought it was high time that I graced the blawgosphere with my presence again before it was felt that I had retired from blogging permanently or disappeared into the underworld for a few months. Thankfully, faithful readers, I’ve done neither.

I suspected when I wrote my previous post that it would take me a while to get round to posting again and my hunch was proved entirely correct. For what it’s worth, the move itself was reasonably painless, but being without the internet for so long more or less crippled me. Dealing with a fiasco over rubbish and recycling bins in which it seemed like they were breeding around the house and out on the street each and every night proved a slightly bewildering episode but it all turned out fine in the end. Suffice to say, I know where there are a few going ‘cheap’.

At the end of last month I took another trip back home to Cornwall for a post-birthday visit which was a blast. As well as a bunch of fishing trips I also took the time to turn a 12 inch wooden bowl, you know, just for the hell of it. All we need now is something to go in it. While I snuck a barbecue into my trip, the weather wasn’t great on the whole and sadly didn’t get round to any snorkelling this time.

Now we’ve settled properly into the new house I can appreciate just how good it is to have a proper house again. Having to mow the front and back lawn, though, could well prove a chore that comes to grate on me, particularly in summer. After the stresses of the past year and the final stretch of university ahead of me – yes, I’ll soon be into LLM territory – I’ve been looking for relaxing and unusual ways to enjoy a little down time before I earn a few quid to see me through the next year. Quite why, then, I’ve taken it on myself to restore a prized and treasured coffee table belonging to girlfriend’s parents is a question I’m still asking myself. I’d better not screw this one up!