Monday, March 31, 2008

McAfee: Super Spam Us!

McAfee's S.P.A.M. (Spammed Persistently All Month) experiment begins today. This is a global project, with 50 people, 5 from each of the 10 countries that McAfee does business in, selected from over 2,000 respondents via a Craiglist ad.

The entire month of April, participants will expose themselves to spam using a Dell laptop provided by McAfee - which they will keep - sans spam protection and with a fresh email address. As the month goes by, participants will blog about their experiences on http://www.mcafeespamexperiment.com/ (participants will blog in their native languages).

Participants won't just be receiving spam; they'll be responding to it, to prove just how harmful spam is. In a press release, Christopher Bolin, chief technology officer for McAfee said:
"Spam isn't just a nuisance. It's a tool used by cyber criminals to steal personal and business data. And, as scammers become more adept at writing spam in local languages it's becoming more difficult for Internet users to detect spam. It's vital that computer users understand the risks of leaving their computers unprotected."
A good question would be just how many Nigerian / 419-type scams participants will enjoy.

Dave DeWalt, CEO for McAfee said:
"Cybercrime won't go away without solving the problem of spam. McAfee is leading the fight against cybercrime and spam. This experiment will raise awareness of the problem by showing that a 30-day diet of spam is bad for your online health."
Sounds a lot like a Super Size Me type experiment doesn't it?

There's no doubt that besides the annoyance of being buried under a mountain of spam, if you're not wary you can become infected with viruses and trojans - or those who are the most careless can be tricked into giving away sensitive financial information.

At the end of the experiment McAfee's Avert Labs will be analyzing the spam and writing a report. I assume they will also analyze just how many viruses were introduced to the laptops as well - as well as, since the participants are keeping the laptops, provided a fresh hard drive or formatting the old one.

It should be noted that McAfee provided both antivirus and antispam products, so it has a vested interest in this study.

Ready, set, start clicking on that spam!


Japan's Windows Vista Gets "Pretty in Pink"

Why not, after all? The land of Pokemon and Hello, Kitty! will surely go for a pink boxed copy of WIndows Vista in droves, won't it?

Sure it will.

This version of Windows Vista Home Premium, available only in Japan, is bundled with Windows Live OneCare. I would hope, if they are combining Vista with the much-maligned OneCare, that they would actually reduce the price of the bundle.

Or, since it also comes with a book on Windows Vista tips, perhaps it should be a wash. Microsoft, if you really want people to buy your product, make it work right, and let's not have upgrade fiascoes for the long-awaited first Service Pack.

Here's the Microsoft promotion page, BTW.


Desperately Seeking Drivers ... for Windows Vista SP1

I haven't been able to upgrade my Dell Inspiron XPS M1710 to Windows Vista SP1 because of - what else - driver issues, as you probably recall from my earlier post. Basically, I needed an update for my SigmaTel sound card driver. And quite naturally, looking at the M1710 driver section, there was no update!

So, I trolled the Community Forums, finding that others were in the same situation as myself. From the forum, as I indicated in my earlier post, I found this driver, R171788.exe. Naturally sicne it wasn't published on the M1710 page, I was a bit nervous, but I gave it a shot this weekend.

So, to make a big production out of it, here's what I did:
  • Downloaded the standalone SP1 installer so I wouldn't have to do it on the fly.
  • Crossing my fingers, I installed the SigmaTel driver on my M1710. It worked! And after rebooting, I saw the above image in Windows Update (click to enlarge). Sweet.
  • Created a drive image using Acronis True Image 11.
  • Created a drive image using Paragon Drive Backup 8.51. Why create two images with two different programs? A friend told me a horror story of having a corrupted image, which pushed him into using two backup programs. I took his advice.
  • Ran the SP1 installer. For your information, on my M1710 it took several reboots and 50 minutes. And that's a pretty powerful laptop! Just imagine someone with a slower system doing this. As it says in the screenshot below, it can take an hour or more to install. If it takes 50 minutes on an M1710, it's gonna take a hour on a lot of systems.
After the 50 minutes was over, I tried the system (I am currently using it), and found ... nothing really different about the system. I did notice one thing that's been annoying me since the start with Vista - file copying, over the network or to external drivers - seemed to be improved. And I mean really improved.

So, for me, the reason to upgrade to SP1 is mostly, as I told my wife, eventually they will stop providing updates for non-SP1 systems. And if you're going to keep your system for a while, you're going to need those updates (mostly security based, to be sure).

Now what? I still have to find a driver for my wife's HP laptop. It's several months newer than my M1710 so I'm annoyed at the issue. I also have to find a driver for my Dell Inspiron XPS Gen 2. It doesn't use the same SigmaTel hardware as my M1710 so I have to find a different one. Typically, the XPS Gen 2 driver page doesn't even list Windows Vista as an OS for the darn thing. Oh, and let's not even talk about my relatives' systems.

What gets me, as I said in my previous post, is that John or Jane Q. Public is going to have a heck of a time finding these drivers. They're probably going to just ignore the whole thing. Now, hopefully Microsoft will directly offer replacement drivers in Windows Update, but to this point, nothing.

Even if that happens, as I previously said, both Microsoft and OEMs such as Dell, Gateway, etc. should team up and offer some sort of tool that scans your system, tells you what the issue is, and points you to a replacement driver - or at least a coming soon page.

You know Microsoft wants SP1 to be successful so that they can get more people to adopt the OS, but this whole SP1 thing has been a fiasco so far.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Creative Labs Slams Door on "Fixed," User-Modded Vista Drivers

Hear it all. All about Creative and their poor Vista driver support.

I'm still a gamer, but with the amount of heat gaming PCs put out, I've switched to gaming laptops only. It's way more expensive, but at least I haven't had to experience the problems Creative Labs users have been having on Windows Vista. Drivers were buggy and feature-crippled.

User Daniel_k (Daniel Kawakami) has been modding Windows Vista drivers for Creative Labs products. While Creative Labs insisted that features such as Decoding of Dolby Digital and DTS signals and DVD-Audio which worked fine in WinXP, would not work on Vista. Daniel_K was recently able to "fix" many drivers, enabling the "incompatible" features as well as fixing many bugs.

He made a few mistakes, however, as in asking for donations. Making a profit off his modded drivers was asking for trouble.

On Friday Creative Labs put a stop to the driver modding, by posting the following on their forums, as well as removing links to his modded drivers.
Daniel_K:

We are aware that you have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those sound cards. In principle we don't have a problem with you helping users in this way, so long as they understand that any driver packages you supply are not supported by Creative. Where we do have a problem is when technology and IP owned by Creative or other companies that Creative has licensed from, are made to run on other products for which they are not intended. We took action to remove your thread because, like you, Creative and its technology partners think it is only fair to be compensated for goods and services. The difference in this case is that we own the rights to the materials that you are distributing. By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods. When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you are profiting from something that you do not own. If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.

Although you say you have discontinued your practice of distributing unauthorized software packages for Creative sound cards we have seen evidence of them elsewhere along with donation requests from you. We also note in a recent post of yours on these forums, that you appear to be contemplating the release of further packages. To be clear, we are asking you to respect our legal rights in this matter and cease all further unauthorized distribution of our technology and IP. In addition we request that you observe our forum rules and respect our right to enforce those rules. If you are in any doubt as to what we would consider unacceptable then please request clarification through one of our forum moderators before posting.

Phil O'Shaughnessy
VP Corporate Communications
Creative Labs Inc.
Some users have posited that Creative Labs has been artificially removing features; O'Shaughnessy's statement "If we choose to develop and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make" seems to point to that conclusion.

As I said, Daniel_k was definitely breaking the EULA, and asking for donations probably drew Creative's ire.

However, Creative's announcement, as well as Daniel_k's indicating he was quitting the modding business drew still more ire - from Creative's customers.

For example, this one:
I am sure I am not alone when I ask this. Once and for all, we want the truth:

After your disrespectful messages to Daniel_K, will you be fixing your own drivers? Or are you going to leave it as it is?
And this one:
I'm happy to announce that by your recent actions AGAINST your customers I have decided NEVER to purchase a Creative product again. I'm also happy to say that within 30 minutes of your horrible news I've managed to convince 3 people to NOT purchase planned Creative products.

It's indeed not a lot but at least I'm doing something.
And finally:
Can we (Vista and X-Fi users) request for a refund as Creative has failed to deliver the necessary drivers and materials in order for the Sound Card to work as advertise?
I have to admit, Daniel_k has a good point in his post I linked above, one that Creative should take to heart:
The funny thing is that you are faster "protecting" your technologies and intelectual properties than providing improved drivers and softwares for your customers.

You purposedly crippled and ruined the Audigy/Live! (Emu10kx) and the Audigy LS/SE/Value/Live!24-bit (P17) drivers for Windows Vista.

This just proves you don't really care about what your customers and what people think about you.

Hey, Creative, when's the last time you looked at your stock price? Yep, $4.45 / share, down from slightly over $6 a year ago. Wonder why? Perhaps driver quality?



Saturday, March 29, 2008

Google Celebrates "Earth Hour" By Using More Energy

"Earth Hour" is 8 PM - 9 PM Saturday night, and the event, as envisioned by the World Wildlife Fund, is for everyone in the world to turn out their lights to save energy, reduce CO2 missions, and the like.

An excellent example is the step take by all the Canadian McDonald's restaurants, which will be turning off their lighted roof beams and signs during the hour. Don't worry, they'll still be serving food, and interior lights will be on, but according to McDonald's enough energy to power a typical Canadian city will be saved during the hour.

On Saturday, as Google likes to do on "special occasions," Google changed not just its logo, but its entire home page to demonstrate support for "Earth Hour." They changed their webpage to have a completely black background. Ironically, a study has shown that a completely black webpage actually uses more power. Of course, whether or not that's really true - well, read on.

The study wasn't conducted on Google, but on Blackle, a site developed using Google Custom Search, which cites a 2002 study from Judy Roberson, who tested a variety of CRT and LCD monitors and found that an all black screen consumed less energy than an all white screen on all of them.

However, a later study showed that while CRT monitors saved power across the board, only LCD monitors greater than 22" in size showed a decrease in power consumption, while several of those below 22" in size showed a minor increase in power use.

Meanwhile, Google itself indicated that the change in screen colior actually makes no difference, with modern display technology changing the "equation."

What do I think? I think even if there is a difference in power consumption, it's minor, and in most cases, Google's probably right - at least with newer displays. The 2002 study certainly used much older technology and I doubt it still holds true.

So, before readers give me a lot of flak, the point of this post is more to remind people about "Earth Hour" than to point out some grievous screw-up by Google. Really want to save some energy? Turn off your PC and go outside. It's a beautiful day.


Hackers Attack Epilepsy Forum; Cause Headaches, Seizures

I have a colleague with epilepsy, and he told me today about an attack last weekend on the user forums of the Epilepsy Foundation of America (EFA), "the national voluntary agency solely dedicated to the welfare of the more than 3 million people with epilepsy in the U.S. and their families."

Apparently hackers went into the forums and laced messages with first animated GIF images, and then Javascript in an attempt to trigger seizures in users. And people wonder why I have doubts about the future of the human race.

Although that's the only forum my colleague visited, the forum at the National Society of Epilepsy (NSE) in the U.K. was subjected to the same attack last weekend. My colleague, fortunately, received a migraine from his visit, but no seizures.

Of those diagnosed with epilepsy, 3 - 5% are of the photosensitive type, in which seizures can be triggered by visual stimuli.

Both sets of forums have since been cleaned up, but why would anyone do this? Messages on the forum indicate that some even wondered about ever coming back to the forums. In this EFA thread Bella2 said:
So, it really freaked me out, the events of last week. Disgusting, graphic pictures kept popping up and I got the worst headache ever. I'm sure all of you had the same. I'm sure there were some who had seizures, too. I force quit my computer and all was normal again. The next day, I asked my husband to check it and it seemed fine too but I have been avoiding this site because I didn't know how long it would take to clean it up.
Here's a "thank you" note for the hard work the EFA did in cleaning up the forums.

And here's a general thread at the NSE about the problems of last weekend.

To make matters worse, the hackers laced the forums with viruses and trojans as well. It was noted by Southie in this thread, that her AV program caught the following:
Keylogger
Keystroke
Back-Door
JS/Popupper
Why would anyone do this? And who would do this? As I said previously, it just goes to show that there are some pretty evil people in the human race.

Wired seems to think it was the group Anonymous, which has been waging a cyberwar against Church of Scientology, but I see no reason why they would attack the EFA and NSE. Apparent members of Anonymous have posted on the EFA boards denying responsibility, and actually positing it was the Church of Scientology that attacked the sites, which makes no sense either.

In the end, while it does matter, we will probably never really know who attacked the sites. More importantly, the sites should take some steps to prevent the issues from occurring again: simply disabling Javascript and images in forums posts would be a good first step.

And let's hope this sort of thing never happens again.


Piracy Funding Terrorism: Mukasey

The RIAA, MPAA, and anyone else you can think of concerned with piracy have a new friend: Attorney General Michael Mukasey. In a gathering of Silicon Valley executives and media at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California, Mukasey warned that piracy and counterfeiting profits are funding terrorism.

Some of his statements, as indicated in a DOJ transcript, were as follows:
First, there's the obvious economic threat -- I suspect that you in this room are far too familiar with this part of the problem.

Second, counterfeiting and piracy generate huge profits, much of it flowing to organized crime. Criminal syndicates, and in some cases even terrorist groups, view IP crime as a lucrative business, and see it as a low-risk way to fund other activities. A primary goal of our IP enforcement mission is to show these criminals that they’re wrong.

And third, in many cases IP crime can also pose a serious threat to health and safety. Fake products of all kinds erode consumer confidence in the marketplace, but the counterfeiting of products like pharmaceuticals and medical devices, auto and airplane parts, or electronics that go into our nation’s critical infrastructure, can present a real and direct danger to the public.
Prior to his speech, Mukasey met with representatives from Apple, Adobe, and other companies. Yesterday he met with Hollywood executives at Warner Bros. in Los Angeles. Friday was the last leg of a three-day swing through California for Mukasey.

Mukasey also indicated that the DOJ filed 217 Intellectual Property (IP) cases, a 7% increase over 2006, and 33% more than 2005.

Still, some of the places we really need to worry about IP theft, such as China, are places where the influence of the DOJ doesn't really amount to much. Still, today Mukasey said U.S. anti-counterfeiting authorities are working with the European Union, Asia, Canada, and even hacker-friendly countries China and Romania.


HD-DVD Simply ... Ceases to Be

What a tumultuous three months. That's how long it took for HD-DVD to cease to exist, starting with Warner Bros.' decision to drop the HD-DVD format in early January, and spiraling quickly afterwards.

On Friday the HD-DVD Promotion Group dissolved, announcing to its members and on the site:
HD DVD Managing Members

March 28, 2008

The HD DVD Promotion Group was dissolved as of March 28, 2008, and the website was closed accordingly.

Please access to DVD Forum for HD DVD formats, and DVD Format/Logo Licensing Corporation for format books and its license. Regarding the HD DVD products, please contact each selling agency directly.
Of course, this doesn't mean you can't find HD-DVD products anywhere. Just that it sure ain't going to be easy.

BTW, will the last HD-DVD member out, turn out the lights? Or at least, shut down the servers for the website (it's still there). After all, Earth Hour is today, isn't it?


GTA IV, Amazon MP3 to Be in Harmony

I'm not a fan of in-game advertising, but in-game sales might be an idea that I can "buy" into.

The in-game radio of the Grand Theft Auto series has been a feature many have lauded, but now it will also be a way to monetize gameplay. By using a new technology called "ZiT," a player, upon hearing a song they like, can call ZIT-555-0100 on their in-game cell phone. A player would then receive a text message with the song and artist names. If they happen to be registered at the Rockstar Games Social Club that I wrote about earlier, they'll receive an e-mail with a direct link to a custom playlist on Amazon.com, where all songs tagged "ZiT" will be stored.

In a press release, it's clear that the music industry is pretty happy about the possibility of monetizing in-game soundtracks. Ronn Werre, EVP, EMI Music's Sales, Licensing and Synchronization unit, said:
"Music has long played an integral part of the game playing experience. We think giving players the ability to identify and buy their favorite tracks from Grand Theft Auto IV's popular radio stations is a great new music discovery tool for fans and an innovative new revenue stream for artists."
Wait, where's the "innovative new revenue stream for us" sentence? Photobucket

At any rate, it's also cool that they choose Amazon MP3, since all their selections are DRM-free. But if this model really takes off, could we perhaps see it used to subsidize and thus lower the retail cost of games? Nah, I didn't think so, either.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Amazon.com Flexes Its Muscles with "Print-On-Demand" Publishers

Despite the fact that I positively love Amazon MP3 for its no-DRM MP3 songs, and Amazon.com for its pricing and easy return policy, let's not forget that Amazon.com is a corporation - whose aim is to make money, not be nice.

In 2005 Amazon.com purchased BookSurge, a small Print-On-Demand (POD) company. Reports are circulating that Amazon.com is flexing its muscles and telling publishers who use POD that they must print through BookSurge.

With new technologies allowing books to be printed and bound in as little as 10 minutes, POD is becoming more popular. Rather than printing a run of books before even knowing if the book will be a hit, with POD publishers can save money by printing only when resellers order.

That's great for publishers, obviously saving money and reducing risk, and until now Amazon.com has been working with publishers using other POD services without issue. That's the key, "until now."

This move would definitely add a stream of revenue for Amazon.com, but it seems somewhat monopolistic. Most authors and publishers definitely would want to be on Amazon.com's site, so if this sort of ultimatum is given, what then?

The WSJ reports (paid subscription required) that Amazon.com says this is not an ultimatum. Rather, said Tammy Hovey, a spokeswoman for Amazon.com:
"It's a strategic decision. What we're looking to do is have a print-on-demand business that better serves our customers and authors. When we work with some other publishers, it's not truly a print-on-demand business."
Ah, it's all about efficiency. And apparently the bottom line.


Nokia Siemens to Sharpen EDGE Speeds

Nokia Siemens Networks announced on Thursday announced their Dual Carrier EDGE solution, while will double data speeds to 592 kbps. This will be a carrier-side software change, and will be available in 3Q 2008.

The next step after that in Nokia Siemens Networks' EDGE Evolution program will be EGPRS 2, which will
download speeds to up to 1.2 Mbps and upload speeds to up to 473 kbps. The date of that upgrade, however, was unannounced.

EDGE Evolution aims to
improve EDGE speeds by reducing latency, increasing bit rates and increasing signal quality.

In a press release, Ari Lehtoranta, Head of Radio Access Business Unit, Nokia Siemens Networks, said:
"By 2015, we expect to live in a broadband-IP world with five billion people 'always on' and therefore Nokia Siemens Networks is committed to protecting customer investments and continue to implement leading EDGE technology. Dual Carrier software upgrade is an easy and extremely cost efficient step to bring broadband user experience to GSM/EDGE networks."
Just imagine how much work corporations will be able to wring out of us then.

What's uncertain is what, if any, current phones will be able to handle the new speeds. The assumption is that at least some (perhaps the iPhone) will be able to get a firmware upgrade and see marked improvement, while others will be stuck in the slow lane.

By the time this rolls out we will hopefully be holding a 3G HSDPA iPhone anyway, but for those with old hardware, this would be great.


Rockstar Games Announces a "Social Club"

Anyone ever watch the movie The Cheyenne Social Club? Well, this ain't that kind of social club. Thursday Rockstar Games announced the Rockstar Social Club, scheduled to launch (drum roll) on the same day as Grand Theft Auto IV, April 29th (go figure).

Registration begins on April 15th (another memorable day) and users can sign up with their Xbox Gamertag or PlayStation Network ID.

Yes, yes, it's a high-tech leaderboard, but you get more than just that.

Here's what you'll get:
  • LCPD Police Blotter - A virtual map and tracker of single-player criminal activity logged in Liberty City from the aggregated data of millions of connected players - showing the most dangerous areas of town, most commonly used weapons and more.
  • The Story Gang - This special single-player leaderboard recognizes players who complete Niko Bellic's main story arc of Grand Theft Auto IV - The leaderboard ranks players according to the total amount of playing time it's taken to complete the story, as well as a historical rank by who has completed it first. Members of this club will receive special online widgets and merit badges marking all of their in-game accomplishments.
  • The 100% Club - Watch to see who will be the first to complete 100% of the game. The first ten people to be identified on the Social Club as reaching 100% will be sent an ultra-rare commemorative 'key to the city' to mark their accomplishment. In the future, the 100% Club will then carry a historical leaderboard showing rankings of who has completed 100% of a game in the shortest span of playing hours.
  • The Hall of Fame -- This area will dynamically recognize those singularly elite players who have reached the top of the hill on various statistical leaderboards, and will also contain a personal awards display of special in-game landmarks and successes in Social Club competitions.
  • The Liberty City Marathon -- A ranking of special physical milestones achieved in the game - from the amount of miles walked, driven, or swam - to the number of bullets fired and stunt-jumps jumped. There will be additional special marathon-based competitions in the future from this area as well.
Obviously the Social Club opens with GTA IV support, but it will naturally expand to other titles as time goes by.

Back to that EA vs. Take-Two story in five, four, three ...


Apple Relents: Non-Apple PCs Can Now Use Safari

Despite the fact that it appeared Apple was pushing Safari via iTunes update, until today, it turns out you can't install it at all, unless you wanted to violate the EULA and risk legal action (and we all know how Apple protects its interests).

As pictured above, you can see that the EULA for Safari (for Windows) says you can install and use the software on "a single Apple-labeled computer at a time." Since Apple doesn't make Windows PCs, this means you could only use the Windows version on a Mac running Boot Camp or some other software allowing you to run Windows on a Mac.

However, realizing it wouldn't get much market share this way, Apple has since relented, changing the EULA (.PDF) posted on their website so that it says:

"This License allows you to install and use one copy of the Apple Software on each computer owned or controlled by you."

Unfortunately, if you happen to download the installer and run it, you still see the EULA above. So, here's my suggestion: download the EULA and keep it around in case Apple chases you down for violating their EULA.

Alternatively, use Firefox. Photobucket


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Comcast, BitTorrent Announce Collaboration (But High-Volume Downloaders Still Need Not Apply)

Wait, wait, is this the same Comcast that has been throttling P2P traffic of late? It is? Hmmm.

Today in a joint press release Comcast and BitTorrent announced they are now working together. Yes, I know it's hard to believe. So, by the end of 2008, Comcast isn't going to throttle P2P traffic. Sounds great, eh?

In fact, BitTorrent will be working to optimize its protocol, with president Ashwin Navin saying the in the press release:
"In the spirit of openness and fostering innovative solutions, BitTorrent will take the first step in enhancing our client applications to optimize them for a new broadband network architecture. Furthermore, we will publish these optimizations in open forums and standard bodies for all application developers to benefit from."
Good news, good news, right? Nope, not really. What they're going to do instead is throttle all file transfers for high-usage consumers.

What Tony Warner, Comcast's chief technology officer told the WSJ (paid subscription required) is that rather than throttle P2P, Comcast will throttle all traffic for those high-usage customers. Of course, as with Comcast bandwidth caps, the exact definition of "high" wasn't elaborated upon.

So, as we move toward more services that require high usage, such as IPTV, Hulu, Netflix's streaming service, iTunes movie rentals, and the like - ISPs are telling us "don't use so much." How can this conundrum be resolved?

Simple, unfortunately. It seems likely that ISPs will begin to move en masse toward the tiered structure that Time-Warner Cable is trying out. The "all-you-can-eat" accounts will - though it will take some time - eventually peter out, if the trend continues.


Adobe Launches Free Online Photoshop Version

Thursday Adobe launched Photoshop Express, an free, online version of its popular Photoshop picture and graphics-editing software. In doing so, Adobe joins the crowd of vendors offering online versions of productivity software. Typical of such offerings, Photoshop Express (PE) arrives in beta form.

Registered users will have 2 GB of storage available as well. Once you sign up, you get a "personal sharing URL," such as http://xxxx.photoshop.com. And before you ask, no, you can't edit local files, only files that are uploaded to your account - or at other sites (more on that below).

Annoyingly, they use Flash for everything, including login, which means Roboform, my password / auto-login program, won't work. Sigh.

Photoshop Express works integrates Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa; you can login directly from the PE site (right). It will attempt to load thumbnails from the logged-in site, but for Photobucket, it failed, only loading a few of the thumbnails and indicating the rest had been moved or deleted - which they had not. I switching to a different album and back fixed the problem.

Click on a thumbnail and you can bring up a menu (left) with a ton of options, including (of course) Edit. If you try to grab the link though, it won't give you a direct link, but a link that passes the direct link through the photoshop domain. Annoying.

Get into editing mode and you'll see PE is pretty generous in its options, though it opened this image of a Pleo (188 x 114) in full-screen mode, rather than defaulting to actual size for a picture small enough to fit on-screen (click above image to enlarge). Ah well, that's what the Feedback link is for.

In their press release, Doug Mack, vice president of Consumer and Hosted Solutions at Adobe said:
"Photoshop is trusted technology that has changed the visual landscape of our world. Now, Photoshop Express allows anyone who snaps a digital photo to easily achieve the high-impact results for which Adobe is known. Photoshop Express is a convenient, single destination where you can store, edit and share photos whether you’re at home, school or on the road."
It doesn't say it, but with other web-based apps proliferating, they are also saying, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

The beta is U.S.-based for now. You can try, as Adobe says in their FAQ, to access it from other countries, but because all the servers are in the U.S., you'll likely have performance issues.


Airline Uses iPods to Attract Travelers

Frequent flier points / miles / whatever not working for you? Time to up the ante. Eos Airlines began a promotion on Wednesday which runs through April 11th. Buy a round-trip ticket from New York to London costing $4,000 or more and get either an iPod Classic or 30,000 Club 48 points. A ticket for less than $4,000 earns you a iPod nano or 15,000 Club 48 points.

Oh, did I mention you have to be a Club 48 member also? Yeah, you do, and you can sign up here.

Eos Airlines takes 757s and converts them from carrying over 200 passengers into suite-based airliners that only carry 48 guests. In fact, every Eos guest gets 21 sq. ft. of space and a a 6'6" Fully Flat Bed. Whoa. And an iPod.

Eos is a business-oriented airline, which flies mainly between New York's JFK International and London's Stansted Airport.

Check out the picture above. If you can afford this treatment, you can buy your own iPod. Photobucket


AMD Unveils New Quad-, Triple-Core Phenoms

AMD made a host of announcements on Thursday, including officially launching their triple-core Phenom X3 line, which we wrote about earlier, as well as high-performance quad-core Phenom X4 CPUs and an energy-efficient quad-core CPU that uses only 65 watts.

Triple-Core Phenom X3

The triple-core Phenom X3 8000-series CPUs were shipped to OEMs earlier in the month. The CPUs will range from the 8400 (2.1GHz) to the 8600 (2.3GHz). According to the press release, AMD and ZT Systems will premiere the first system featuring the triple-core 8400 CPU on QVC during the Computer Shop broadcast, cheduled to air March 31 at 10 p.m. EDT.

In the press release, Russell Carlisle, VP of Marketing, ZT Systems said:
New ZT Affinity desktops featuring the AMD Phenom X3 8400 triple-core processor deliver 'The Latest Technology for Less,' empowering a broader range of customers to experience the performance and multi-tasking capability of true multi-core technology. The ZT Affinity 5202Zi is a perfect fit for consumers looking for a stylish, affordable compact PC with the power they need for today's cutting-edge digital entertainment.
It should be noted that as innovative as AMD tries to make these triple-core CPUs sound, they are really quad-cores with a failed core - a good way to use something that would otherwise be wasted.

Additionally, these both use the B2 stepping which means the TLB bug is present and fixed via a BIOS patch.

Quad-Core Phenom X4

AMD also announced the high-performance Phenom X4 CPUs, with the 9550 (2.2GHz), 9650 (2.3GHz), 9750 (2.4GHz) and 9850 (2.5GHz) now available. The 9850 is available (quantity 1000) for $235 while the 9550 is $209. More pricing info is here, and a comparison of the CPUs via model number is here.

Naturally these new X4 CPUs will be free of the aforementioned TLB gu which, when patched, significantly impacts performance. Of course, when unpatched you can reach a deadlock condition.

In the press release, Mario Rivas, executive vice president, computing solutions group, AMD said:

"These new AMD Phenom X4 processors unlock even greater visual computing performance to showcase the unparalleled scalability of the AMD enthusiast platform. Based on AMDs advanced true quad-core architecture, these processors are loaded with powerful performance features like next-generation HyperTransport 3.0 and energy-efficient innovations like CoolnQuiet 2.0 technology."

Energy-Efficient Quad-Core AMD Phenom X4 9100e

Despite the obvious focus of most people on performance, for me the 9100e was the most interesting. Using a maximum of 65 watts of power, it promises quad-core goodness while maintaining a semblance of green, and while managing to keep your office temperature at a livable level.

Once again, this CPU is free of the TLB bug.

In the press release, Greg White, corporate vice president and general manager, desktop and embedded division, AMD said:
"By infusing energy–conscious design into everything related to AMD - facilities, products and alliances - AMD has emerged as a leader in establishing eco-friendly practices. The AMD Phenom X4 9100e processor is our latest endeavor to help customers reduce energy consumption and environmental impact. Energy-efficient processors from AMD not only enable differentiated solutions, but are extremely conducive to smaller and sleeker form factors like Home Theater PCs that take up less space and operate quietly. PCs such as this can also help reduce energy consumption and the associated environmental impacts of traditional PC form factors."
Meanwhile, Jim McGregor, research director and principal analyst, In-Stat said:
"Consumers and businesses alike are requesting smaller, more elegant PCs that aesthetically complement home and office environments, offer lower noise for a better computing experience, and deliver the same performance of larger systems. Energy efficient desktop processors like the AMD Phenom X4 9100e offer greater performance-per-watt over traditional desktop CPUs while addressing the growing concerns of end-users for more energy efficient and eco-friendly products.”

What do I think? Call it the kitchen sink or the whole nine yards: AMD threw about everything it could at us all on one day. It's good to finally see something competitive from AMD, though the pendulum is still swung firmly in Intel's direction.


Turn Your Smartphone Into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Waitasecond! I'm pretty selfish with my bandwidth. Why would I want to turn my wi-fi enabled smartphone into a hotspot? Well, maybe I would - because it's generally easier to set up wi-fi than to set up a smartphone as a laptop modem.

Wednesday TapRoot Systems announced (.PDF), for "immediate implementation into carrier networks," WalkingHotSpot (WHS) client and server. The client will only work on WM and Symbian devices for now.

Of course, you won't be able to buy it yourself. Nope. The idea is for TapRoot to sell this to carriers, and then the carriers will incorporate it into their devices. In conjunction with the WHS server, which
provides carriers with the ability to manage and control subscriber accounts, authenticate WalkingHotSpot devices and clients, as well as collect subscriber usage information. This service allows carriers to offer a secure, controlled and scalable solution to their subscribers.
AKA: carriers can / will use the server to charge for this. As if we don't pay enough for our wireless plans already, right?

Want voice / data? That's only available on HSDPA / UMTS devices. EVDO, though fast, will drop the data connection when a call comes in.

BTW, there's a (currently) free WM client called WMWifiRouter. It's on WM, though, and it's clear it's not going to be free once it ships. You can get a €5 discount on the final product if you try it and let them know (via a web form) if it worked on your device.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Take-Two to EA: Seriously, We Reject Your Offer

You'll recall that earlier this month Electronics Arts decided to take its $26 /share offer directly to Take-Two Interactive shareholders, going hostile, after Take-Two earlier rejected the unsolicited offer. Today Take-Two repeated itself, recommending that shareholders reject the offer.

In a press release, Take-Two recommended to shareholders that they reject EA's offer, saying once again that the $26 / share price was inadequate. At the same time, Take-Two has adopted a Shareholder Rights Agreement (really, a "poison pill") which will be in place for the next 180 days, which would kick in if an investor acquires a 20% stake in the company or anyone already above that threshold buys an additional 2% stake.

As indicated in the press release by Strauss Zelnick, Chairman of the Board of Take-Two:
"We have adopted this short-term Stockholders Rights Agreement in order to guard against a takeover by EA at the current, inadequate price. We believe the Rights Agreement will ensure that the Take-Two Board has adequate time to consider all strategic alternatives for maximizing value for Take-Two stockholders. The Agreement will not, and is not intended to, prevent a takeover of the Company on terms that are fair to and in the best interests of all stockholders."
Take-Two also rescheduled 2008 Annual Meeting to Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. (EDT).

Take-Two maintains that it's willing to talk - after the April 29th release of Grand Theft Auto IV - not just to EA, but to any parties interested in a "strategic business combination." In fact, Take-Two said this when they first rejected EA's offer. As also indicated by Zelnick, Take-Two's board feels the offer is "opportunistically timed to capture the value of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV launch at the expense of our stockholders."

Take-Two (TTWO) is up $0.01 to $25.83 / share at the time of this writing, while EA (ERTS) is down $1.29 to $48.89.

So, has anyone started a pool yet on which takeover will be resolved first? This one or Yahoo!?


Windows XP SP3: No, Really, It's Not Ready

Rumor was that Microsoft was set to release Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) this week, but that's obviously not going to happen. Tuesday Microsoft announced another refresh of the software, a Release Candidate 2 (RC2) refresh (what, not RC3?).

As before, you have to use an application to enable Windows Update to "see" your PC as a valid machine to install SP3 on.

While SP3 isn't ready yet, it has to be very close, as the post on Technet announcing the refresh said:
Beyond fixes for common Windows Update issues and the inclusion of support for HD Audio, there are no substantial differences between this beta release (build 5508) and XP SP3 RC2 (build 3311).
Plenty of users will be happy about the HDA support, as that wasn't working before, but the release of a refresh means a new test cycle will start. Microsoft still says SP3 will release in the first half of this year, however.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Facebook's New Privacy Controls Fall Flat

You'll recall that Facebook recently ratcheted up their privacy controls. Apparently they didn't ratchet them tight enough.

Since last week's announcement, Vancouver computer technician Byron Ng has been trying to hack past the privacy controls. Why he was doing this, I'm not sure. I am pretty sure it was for altruistic reasons, since as soon as he discovered the hack, he revealed it to AP, who verified the hack themselves.

Additionally, after being tipped to the security hole on Monday afternoon, Facebook closed the hole - within an hour. It is unclear if the security hole that was closed was this one, which apparently has been known for weeks around the Web, but unfixed seemingly until yesterday. If so, that would tend to indicate a less-than-swift response, at least until things were highly publicized.

You'll recall that Facebook's new privacy settings allowed users to restrict information to specific classifications of users they set up.
  • Everyone on Facebook
  • Friends of Friends
  • All Friends
  • Some Friends
  • Only Me
However, Ng was able to go so far as to view private pictures of Paris Hilton at the Emmy awards and photos of her brother Barron Nicholas as well.

Ah, what can you say? Given enough time, anything can be hacked (hear that RIAA, MPAA and other DRM and copy-protection users?). Of course, this was pretty quick.

Let's hope when Facebook rolls out their Chat feature it's not quite so full of holes, security or otherwise.


Forbes to Launch Business and Finance Blog Network

On Monday Forbes announced something you can see from the badge to the left of this post: the Forbes Business & Finance Blog Network. Yep. this blog is part of it.

It's actually been a long time coming, as this site was involved very early on in the development, since late last year. Originally it had been slated to launch in January, but here it is, better late than never.

In a press release released to the media and (naturally) released to blog network members, Forbes said:

The Blog Network’s content will focus on senior business decision makers and high-net-worth investors. Topics will be relevant to the banking, trading, hedge fund management, affluent investing, and senior business decision-making communities. Participation in the network is by invitation only, and all blogs are vetted by Forbes.com editors for appropriate content, and to ensure that they are in keeping with the Forbes editorial brand.

“There is no denying the growing importance and influence of blogs within the media landscape,” said Forbes.com President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Spanfeller. “Forbes.com can ensure advertisers are reaching a hard-to-find and very desirable audience within safe, well-lit environments by exclusively inviting ‘best of breed’ business and investing bloggers to our new Business and Finance Blog Network.”

Nick Ricci, formerly Senior Vice President, Sales and Ad Operations of About.com, joins as General Manager, Sales. He will be responsible for overseeing the sales, marketing and promotion for the Blog Network as well as the Forbes Audience Network (FAN), which launched in November 2007.

I'm honored this blog was selected from very early on in the process. Obviously still more to come.


PS3 Now First BD-Live Player as Firmware 2.20 Goes Live

As I wrote earlier, with the 2.20 FW upgrade, the PS3 becomes the first BD-Live Player in existence. The upgrade went live Monday night, and thus you can now start looking for the few BD-Live (AKA Blu-ray Profile 2.0) titles available.

BD-Live adds interactive features, such as downloadable video content, ringtones, games, etc.

Additional changes in FW v2.20, according to Sony:
  • The ability to copy PS3 Music and Photo playlists to a PSP system. We introduced the ability to create Music and Photo playlists on the PS3 in firmware update v2.0. Now you can easily export your playlists to your PSP.
  • You can now play DivX and WMV format files that are over 2 GB. In addition, you can now display subtitles when viewing DivX files.
  • Resume Play - begin playing a DVD or BD disc from the point where you previously stopped it, even if you eject the disc and insert a different movie or game.
  • Use your PSP as a remote control to play back your music files on your PS3 without turning on your TV.
  • The Internet browser now displays some web pages faster. In addition [Save Target] has been added as an option under file. This option lets you save a file that is linked to a web page to your PS3 hard drive or storage media.


Google Wants FCC to Free Up "White Space" for Mobile Broadband, Allow "Wi-Fi on Steroids"

Google didn't come away with anything in the recently ended 700-Mhz, but don't feel sorry for them just yet. Google is lobbying for access to the "white spaces" - largely unused spectrum that resides next to broadcast TV spectrum - for use for mobile broadband.

In a letter (.PDF) sent to the FCC last Friday by Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecom and media counsel, Google said:
As Google has pointed out previously, the vast majority of viable spectrum in this country simply goes unused, or else is grossly underutilized. Our nation typically uses only about five percent of one of our most precious resources. Unlike other natural resources, there is no benefit to allowing this spectrum to lie fallow. The airwaves can provide huge economic and social gains if used more efficiently, as seen today with the relatively tiny slices utilized by mobile phones and WiFi services.

The unique qualities of the TV white space -- unused spectrum, large amounts of bandwidth, and excellent propagation characteristics -- offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans. In particular, this spectrum can provide robust infrastructure to serve the needs of under-deployed rural areas, as well as first responders and others in the public safety community. Moreover, use of this spectrum will enable much-needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers.
In other words, that spectrum is wasted, let us use it. At the same time, Google has a section in the letter titled "No risk: an enhanced spectrum protection proposal" in which they make sure to outline how they will ensure that they won't adversely affect broadcasters.

In a conference call Monday, Whitt also went further, calling the plan "Wi-Fi on steroids" or "Wi-Fi 2.0." If all goes as Google hopes, they believe they can have people surfing on handheld devices at gigabits-per-second speeds by the end of 2009. And that's despite the fact that the TV spectrum won't be vacated until the DTV transition occurs in February 2009.

Google isn't alone in its desire to use the "white space." In fact, the Wireless Innovation Alliance also includes Dell and Microsoft as two of the better-known members. The key will be if the group can address the interference worries; the FCC recently started a new round of "white space" broadband testing (.PDF) on Jan. 24th after a prototype failed to detect / avoid interfering with other devices.

Kinda sounds like the "bad neighbor policy" of Wireless-N, doesn't it? If they can get it right, though, we may yet be seeing that promised gigabit-per-second wireless broadband.


MySpace Near Deals with Sony BMG, Warner Music Group: Report

The rumored MySpace Music online store seems closer to fruition, with sources telling the NY Post that both Sony BMG and Warner Music Group are near deals with MySpace.

The sources indicated that the deals could be signed as early as later this week. Considering that News Corp. owns both MySpace and The New York Post, this is probably pretty reliable info.

MySpace Music is expected to offer paid MP3 downloads as well as ad-supported free streams of music and videos. The deals will reportedly be unusual in terms of compensation; any labels signing with MySpace Music will receive a share of the service analogous to their existing market share outside of MySpace, with no money initially changing hands.

By signing Sony BMG and Warner Music Group, MySpace will have deals with the #2 and #3 record labels out of the four major labels (Universal Music Group is #1 and EMI is #4). Since Universal is still embroiled in a lawsuit against MySpace over copyright infringement (for allowing users to upload and download songs and music videos), I wouldn't expect a deal to be signed between those two anytime soon.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Blu-ray's Victory Threatened by Li'l Old Lady Professor?

It's no secret that the high-definition optical disc war just ended, with Blu-ray the winner. But a U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) announcement made last Thursday may derail any ongoing celebrations.

Gertrude Neumark Rothschild, professor emeritus of engineering at Columbia University, filed a complaint on February 20th, asserting that the technology for not just Blu-ray players, but hand-held mobile devices, instrument panels, billboards, traffic lights, and unspecified data storage devices are based short-wavelength (e.g., blue, violet) LEDs and laser diodes that she has patents for.

I first heard about this over the weekend, but it wasn't until a friend prompted me that I realized this was no joke.

The list of companies under investigation is large, and full of well-known (and not-so-well-known) names:
  • Avago Technologies of Singapore
  • Bacol Optoelectonic Co. Ltd. of Taiwan
  • Dominant Semiconductors Sdn. Bhd. of Malaysia
  • Everlight Electronics Co., Ltd., of Taiwan
  • Exceed Perseverance Electronic Ind. Co., Ltd., of China
  • Guangzhou Hongli Opto-Electronic Co., Ltd., of China
  • Harvatek Internaional Inc. of Taiwan
  • Hitachi, Ltd., of Japan
  • Kingbright Electronic Co., Ltd., of Taiwan
  • LG Electronics of Korea
  • Lite-On Technology Corp. of Taiwan
  • Lucky Light Electronics Co., Ltd., of China
  • Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., of Japan
  • Motorola, Inc., of Schaumburg, IL
  • Nokia of Finland
  • Opto Tech Corporation of Taiwan
  • Pioneer Corporation of Japan
  • Rohm Co., Ltd., of Japan
  • Samsung Group of Korea
  • Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., of Japan
  • Seoul Semiconductor Co., Ltd., of Korea
  • Sharp Corporation of Japan
  • Shenzhen Unilight Electronic Co., Ltd., of China
  • Shinano Kenshi Co., Ltd., of Japan
  • Sony Corporation of Japan
  • Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB of Sweden
  • Stanley Electric Co., Ltd., of Japan
  • Toshiba Corporation of Japan
  • Vishay Intertechnology, Inc., of Malvern, PA
  • Yellow Stone Corporation of Taiwan
Here and here are the patents in question. Rothschild already has a settlement with Philips Lumileds under her belt, but you can assume that the U.S. isn't going to halt shipments of all those types of devices. A quick attempt at mediation between companies and the professor might be in order, however. Obviously more to come.


Chrysler to Add Wi-Fi, More Distraction to Cars This Year

I understand, it would be great if I were a passenger to be able to link my laptop to in-car wi-fi and use it while riding in a car. But we can't even keep drivers from text messaging or emailing via smartphones without laws, so what do you think is going to happen now? Do we really need an additional distraction in vehicles?

I realize, however, that Chrysler has to do something to get some sales. It's not like their car line is all that exciting or compelling.

According to Chrysler, dealers will begin installing the option this year, with the add-on becoming a manufacturing option later. According to Frank Klegon, Chrysler's product development chief, "We want to make the radio itself a wi-fi port."

What? I assume he means they want to turn the radio into a wireless router.

However, the technology will still reply on cellular phone service to gain Internet access. This means a) you'll have to subscribe to a data plan, and b) you shouldn't expect broadband speeds.

Heck, if you had a cellular modem PC Card you wouldn't even have to subject yourself to buying a Chrysler. Ugh. I will never buy an American car again - and of course, they'll have to pry my Prius out of my hands (unless they eliminate the carpool lane perk - though with gasoline approaching $4 it may not matter soon).


Sony Removes "No Bloatware" Fee - But Not Really

You may recall that I wrote previously about Sony's "No Bloatware" fee, which was slated to be $50. They've since, after an explosion of bad publicity, rescinded that fee. However, as I said in my prior post, in order to get the "Fresh Start" option and no bloatware, you had to select Windows Vista Business, a $100 option. To me, this meant the original price for "Fresh Start" was $150. The requirement for "Fresh Start" still includes Windows Vista Business, so now it seems the price remains a ridiculous $100 for garbage most people don't want.

Sony is only offering this option on the VGN-TZ2000 and VGN-TX2500 laptops, and as I said - and as you can see in the configuration screenshot above (click to enlarge) - you still have to upgrade your OS. Most sites and blogs however, are cheering over this so-called consumer victory, but why should anyone have to upgrade their OS at all? This should be a no-charge option for all systems.

It also makes me wonder if this was planned all along. I mean, Sony is getting a lot of good PR over this move of theirs, while in reality they still require you to up your configuration by $100. While it's true that some would probably opt for Vista Biz anyway, quite a few would probably opt to stick with Home Premium, which is a fine option for many.

Of course, that would require me to imagine that a corporation might have a somewhat shady reason for doing things - to possibly increase their bottom line. Nah, right? Photobucket

I also understand that OEMs make $$$ off all the bloatware they install, and that by removing it they lose that money, but since corporations make tons off consumers, I really don't feel much sympathy for them.

I'll admit, it's nice to see a "no bloatware" option, but it should really be an option on all systems and all OSes, not limited to those who upgrade their OS. For now, I still give Sony a failing grade.


Student No Longer Faces Expulsion for "Facebook Study Group"

You may recall that Chris Avenir, a first-year chemical engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, faced expulsion after it came to light that he had created a Facebook-based chemistry study group.

The study group, called "Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions,” after a campus-based engineering study group called "The Dungeon," attracted the attention of school administrators over the winter break.

As there were 146 members in the group, Avenir was charged with 147 counts of academic misconduct and recommended for expulsion. At the same time, his class grade was changed from A to F.

However, Avenir stated that the group was no different than any other study group, providing tutoring and tri-mentoring, not cheating as administrators claimed. Other students expressed outrage as well.

The university had somewhat of a change of heart last week, telling him that he wouldn't be expelled. However, he will still receive a zero on the assignment section of the chemistry course. That is worth 10% of the grade, but since, as previously indicated, he had an A originally, he still passed the course easily.

It's possible that Avenir could still appeal through the Ryerson Students' Union, but as he had been facing expulsion, this is already a victory of sorts. He still faces mandatory attendance in a academic misconduct workshop.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Intel's Proteus Security Software to Protect by Learning "You"

The problem with a lot of security software is reliance on signatures to detect malware. If the malware is new, it may bypass the security software. Intel, specifically researchers at Intel Research Berkeley, are working on a project called Proteus which will learn your behavior and detect intrusions based on statistical modeling.

Proteus uses several algorithms to tailor protection based on the habits of a user. For example, the type of security software use by most IT departments has one trigger that looks at Internet traffic from a PC, sending an alarm when a preset threshold is met. A heavy downloader might trigger that alarm accidentally.

The first algorithm uses standard statistical and machine-learning techniques to monitor a person's Internet use and create individualized traffic thresholds, which should prevent false positives. A second algorithm tracks Internet use changes throughout the day since most people, if using a work laptop, will have a different Internet use profile when home than when at work.

A final algorithm monitors "calling home" activities for regularity. Such activities are frequently used to coordinate botnets.

Nina Taft, one of the researchers involved in the project, indicated that Intel is interested in getting as much of this security into hardware as possible.
"Intel is interested in getting as much [security] into hardware as possible. It's a good use of [processing] cores, and when things are in hardware, they're harder to tamper with."
While Intel has already tried the system with 350 years, and is looking for a wider test deployment, of Symantec or McAfee stock needn't panic. Intel believes no one security solution can protect against all possible intrusions. It's just this sort of redundancy behind my use of both antivirus and anti-Trojan programs on my systems.

"There are so many different ways to break in," Taft said. "One will need many security checks on a computer."


Wine Approaches 1.0 Vintage

The Wine project is scheduled for its 1.0 release, after nearly 15 years of development. In fact, according to their "release plan" they are trying to release it close to the 15th anniversary date.

The uncertainty of the exact birthday of Wine, which is a software application which aims to allow Unix and Linux systems with Intel x86 CPUs to run Microsoft Windows programs, makes targeting a little difficult. The possibilities are:
  • May 30, 1993 - Jocke Berglund suggests that being "able to run windows programs without windows" would be a "great feature"
  • May 31, 1993 - Garrett D'Amore: "I think it is technically feasible to write an 'interpreter' for Windows *.EXEs that calls its own internal functions whenever a specific call to certain API addresses are made"
  • Jul 8, 1993 - the first Wine ChangeLog entry
Because of that, the project is simply continuing with its biweekly release schedule and aiming for a 1.0.0 release on June 6th.

The Wine 1.0.0 release criteria may seem a bit lame, listing only four apps as it does, but as the project says:
The problem with expanding that list is that each new app adds a huge amount of testing to each release.
The four apps which must "run well" are:
  • Photoshop CS2 trial
  • Microsoft Powerpoint Viewer 97 and 2003
  • Microsoft Word Viewer 97 and 2003
  • Microsoft Excel Viewer 97 and 2003
Wine will likely never run all Windows apps well, without Microsoft help, but Google recently announced it had helped the Wine project out, so who knows?


picapp Offers News Photos to Bloggers and Sites - Free

Need to use on your website but concerned about possible copyright infringement? picapp may be the answer for you. In its FAQ, the company says:
picapp.com is a free online service for adding high-quality stock photos to blogs and websites – without the copyright and legal headaches. Registration is free, and picapp.com members have legal access to the best and most current stock photo collections on the web. Inserting picapp.com images on your site is as easy as 1-2-3.
It's not the same as embedding a regular image. What you're embedding is Javascript and Flash. That also means it's not that simple to resize the image. Above isn't a real embedded picapp image, but a screenshot of one (so I could resize it). In fact, I tried altering the Javascript to resize the original image, and what happened was the script kept trying to load, and load, and load.

For many sites, being able to resize images is important, so that will limit (somewhat) picapp's audience, until and unless they change that.

BTW, in the above image you see above an embedded ad, which is, of course, how picapp makes its money.

Also, it's not the type of thing I'm going to use for this site. I tried searching for "router" and didn't find anything that made sense. The above image was the result of a search for "Iron Man movie." I hope it would bring up an image from this summers probable blockbuster, but instead it brought up an image from a 1931 image of the same name.

Searching for "George Clooney," however, was much more successful. This type of service might be good for a celebrity news site or one that needs a lot of stock photos.

Since they're embedding ads, is it possible they will share the revenue? The FAQ hints at that:
Can I make money with picapp.com?

Stay tuned!
They're going to need a lot of embeds to make money though (the ads I saw weren't too compelling), so will this service make it? Better search, different types of images, resizeability, these would all help picapp. We'll keep an eye on it.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Apple Pushes Safari Via iTunes Update

Can't get market share the good old-fashioned way? How about sneaking your browser onto systems, then?

Since Apple released the 3.1 version of its Safari browser on Tuesday, it's been offering Safari via its Apple Software Update applet. That's not really a big deal. What is a little more of a big deal is that it's offering it as an "update" even to those users who never had Safari installed.

Apple's been trailing badly in browser market share, with Microsoft's IE still owning 74.9% of the market, Firefox with 17.3%, and Safari with 5.7%, according to Net Applications' market share report for February.

Mozilla CEO John Lilly took the opportunity to rail on Apple, saying in a blog post:
What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong. It undermines the trust relationship great companie have with their customers, and that’s bad — not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web.

There’s an implicit trust relationship between software makers and customers in this regard: as a software maker we promise to do our very best to keep users safe and will provide the quickest updates possible, with absolutely no other agenda. And when the user trusts the software maker, they’ll generally go ahead and install the patch, keeping themselves and everyone else safe.

The problem here is that it lists Safari for getting an update — and has the “Install” box checked by default — even if you haven’t ever installed Safari on your PC.
I agree, but I'll also add that this is precisely the reason that I always make sure I am careful when installing updates or even a new package. In fact, I usually go with the "advanced options"
when installing something, and ask for the "complete" install, so I can see everything that's being installed (well, hopefully, unless it installs some sort of stealth copy-protection or something).

For example, when I updated my Jave Runtime Environment today, it asked to install the Google Toolbar. Well, I don't want the Google Toolbar. Some people might just install everything without first checking, and that's the whole problem with Apple's stance on this.

Additionally, since everyone who has iTunes installed will also have this update applet installed, you can see that Apple has quite a large "captive" audience, susceptible to its "offering."

I'll say this: if this doesn't hurt Apple's pristine good-guy, anti-corporate image, I don't know what will.


So Microsoft, Why Can't I Get Windows Vista SP1?

Windows Vista SP1 is now available, but not everyone can get it. That includes me, at least on my Dell Inspiron M1710. You'll recall that Microsoft isn't going to offer SP1 via Windows Update to anyone who has a "problematic driver."

But I couldn't figure out why my M1710 was excluded. A cursory glance at the drivers made me think I shouldn't be blocked, and I already had all the prerequisite updates. So, I had to look at KB948343 to figure out why. And I had to do it the hard way: searching for each file in the list of problematic drivers.

I found it: I have SigmaTel driver file Stwrt.sys (version 6.10.5343.1). Since version 6.10.5511.0 or earlier is excluded, that's what's blocking me. The problem is that Dell has not updated that driver, so I'm stuck.

Here's my question: why did I have to search for the driver? Microsoft obviously knew I had an issue; why doesn't Windows Update just tell me?

A user posting a comment at the Microsoft Windows Vista blog post that announced SP1 had the same sort of reaction, saying:
I'm not being offered Vista SP1 on my new Dell XPS M1530 laptop. As far as I can tell I have two pieces of hardware in the problem list, but the driver versions I have seem to be OK.

Sigmatel stwrt.sys - I have 6.10.5614.0 (doc says must be > 6.10.5511.0)

UPEK tcusb.sys - I have 1.9.2.111 (doc says must be > 1.9.2.99)

So my question is, is there any way of finding out exactly what is stopping me from being shown SP1 via Windows Update? I'm tired of looking at driver versions now.
Hey Microsoft, how about a tool that might tell users a) what the problem is, b) where to get a new driver (if possible)? Seems to be that it wouldn't be that much work for Microsoft (well, maybe, to keep it up to date, but it would really help end user satisfaction).

Update: I've been trying to find a upgraded driver for SigmalTel , but so far what I've found in Dell's community forums says that an updated driver will work on a number of systems, but only may work on mine, because it is not listed as supported. I may have to try to contact the Dell Liason in TX I used previously to see if I can get some help on this.

My understanding is Gateway and HP owners are having similar issues with updating drivers.

Update 2: I discovered there is a driver that should work. It's this one, R171788.exe. A few comments:
  • Why was this posted on the European site, not the U.S. one? The link is from a Dell Community Rep, BTW.
  • Why wasn't this linked in the M1710 driver section?
  • Why did they switch to using BIOS codes for drivers? I didn't know this was compatible because it's listed as compatible with MXG061 - BIOS code for the M1710. What was wrong with the M1710 name?
Dell and other OEMs have plenty of blame to shoulder; I'm sure they knew about these drivers a long time ago and had plenty of time to update their support pages. However, I still stand by my comment that Microsoft / OEMs should provide a simple tool to find these incompatibilities. I can't imagine my mother-in-law being able to figure this out - without my help.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Sony's "Fresh Start" Option Charges $150 to Remove Bloatware

What's the first thing I do when I get a computer from a major system building like Dell, HP or Sony? Well, actually, the first thing I do once I get it activated is make a system image. The second thing I do is wipe all the "bloatware" off the system. Bloatware is all the trialware and junk I don't want on the computer.

It's one of the most requested items that people wish they would be able to customize their PCs with ... "no bloatware" that is. Sony has gotten the message, but aims to make a profit off it it. You can request the so-called "Fresh Start" option, though only on the VGN-TZ2000 and VGN-TX2500 for now, and you have to pay $50 for the "privilege" (click image above to enlarge).

Wait, why I am saying it's $150? Well, to top it off, you also have to add Windows Vista Business and that adds still another $100. So you're really paying $150 to get stuff off your PC ... or rather, not put stuff on your PC ... that you don't want.

I suppose if a user wanted Vista Biz anyway you could say it was only $50, but let's be honest here ...

So should I say thanks? It's a start, but something like this should be available on all PCs, and for free. It's understandable why they charge for it, though, because OEMs get $ for sticking that "bloatware" on the PCs in the first place. But why add insult to injury by forcing an OS upgrade, too?

Update: According to reports, Sony has decided to remove the $50 charge. However, it's still there right now and thus unconfirmed - and I wonder if you still have to upgrade to Vista Biz to get it. That would still be an additional $100 for the privilege.


Amazon.com: We're Sorry, More Kindles Are Coming

When the Kindle was launched, despite skepticism, it sold out very quickly. This of course led to speculation that a) they totally underestimated the product's possibilities, or b) it was a marketing gimmick, a PR ploy. I personally lean toward a).

If you went to the Amazon.com website on Thursday you would have seen an apology from Jeff Bezos front-and-center on their homepage, indicating that hopefully soon customers will be able to order a Kindle and have it shipped the same day.

Without knowing exactly how many Kindles have been sold, it's difficult to say how successful it really is. But reading his apology: a six-week wait? If you really want to apologize, how about a free download for some of the early sufferers, er, adopters?

For me, as I've said earlier, I don't mind leaving a paperback on a BART train, but one of these? I'll think about it for a while longer.