Archive for the ‘Computers and the Internet’ Category

More DIY

August 5th, 2011 Comments off

In July, we built our second computer in the college’s Computer Making Club, and it works just fine. Core i5 2400 CPU, ASRock H67M mobo, 8 GB 1333 DDR3 RAM, 1 TB HDD, Blu-Ray reader. Not bad–the most powerful rig in the school, and it cost ¥50,000 (the semester budget for the club). Using last semester’s (the one interrupted by the earthquake) funds not spent on a whole computer, we could buy 3 Full-HD monitors and an SSD with the spare change. Maybe next semester we’ll trying SSD caching on a Z68 mobo.

Today, students from last semester’s club wanted my help building two computers for their friends. They bought roughly the same equipment as I listed above, but they really wanted smaller cases. We got all the parts, in duplicate, and spent much of today building the computers–I worked on one while the students copied my moves on the others.

We finished, and then did a test start–and nothing. Dead. No power, no lights, no fan movement, nada. We checked and re-checked the wiring, then checked it again. Everything was OK. Tried different cables. Tried both computers. Tried alternate arrangements for the power switch connectors, even tried using a paper clip on the leads. Nothing. I brought the club’s new rig, the one built in July, and ran that rig’s power supply wiring to one of the new mobos–nothing. We must have tried a dozen different things and nothing worked. For all we could see, we had two computers, both completely DOA.

Which didn’t make sense–two different computers dead in the exact same way? One rig having a dead part I could understand, but two different ones, having the exact same fault? I began to suspect that the students were sold defective parts–but that didn’t sound right, either. Even a dishonest distributor would not sell one person the same defective part twice.

We checked the instructions–but one of my main gripes about the computer world is that documentation sucks. As it did with this case–it said very little at all. Really fracking annoying.

Salvation came from a half hour of Googling the case, then the mobo–and I found someone who had the same problem and solved it by removing the motherboard from the case. Wires attached, just lift it from the case mount, and it worked, so the post went. So we tried that.

It worked.

From there, it was a simple matter of working backwards. If we set the motherboard down in the case, unscrewed, would it work? Yes. How about if we added this one screw? Yep, still works. Another one added, in that hole? Works. How about adding one more screw, here? Bango, no power.

After looking into it later, it seemed that a lack of insulation and the way the board was set up caused the mobo to be “grounded out,” whatever that means. This case was apparently designed so poorly–and did not include fiber washers–that in any case of this design, screwing the mobo in place on one side causes a ground-out. What’s more, they included a rubber “bump” which could insulate the board and didn’t mention what it was for. It’s listed in the parts, but no mention of how or why or when or where it is used. Seems to me that if your design so regularly causes power loss via “grounding out” and you know this well enough to add a part to deal with it, then you goddamn fracking better well mention it before your customers spend hours figuring it out, or worse, spend days ordering new parts.

So, because the case maker screwed up the design and failed to note it in the instructions, we spent two hours agonizing over the whole thing. Major pain in the ass. Sometimes you just want to find the corporate offices and kick these idiots.

Once we figured this out, it went like a breeze, although the BIOS showed a core CPU temp starting at 40°C and climbing to 55° or so, just in the BIOS. I read some posts saying this was relatively normal, and both rigs had the same readings, so I let it go but warned them to install the hardware monitors and keep an eye on the temps.

Not too shabby a day, but I could have done without the useless anxiety and frustration. All part of the DIY experience, I guess.

ZOMG! Run for the Hills! Another Antivirus Press Release!

July 24th, 2011 Comments off

E! Online has apparently just fallen off the file-sharing turnip truck, where it apparently was born yesterday.

They are acting like something new and unthinkable has just happened for the first time. Under the headline, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Computer Virus? Could Happen!” they report:

Antivirus software maker PC Tools has uncovered a phishing scam lurking within BitTorrent, where massive files (like the ones containing feature-length films) are transferred via smaller chunks to make them easier for computers to handle.

According to PC Tools publicity rep Curtis Sparrer, a result claiming to have located a free download of the final Harry Potter film will actually prompt you to visit another site so that you can obtain the required password “to stop automated leeching and detection.”

After you’ve saved what looks to be a legitimate file, the virus purveyors will have access to your hard drive. And, to add insult to injury, there’s no movie.

They located one? No, they uncovered one! Wow, that must have been hard!

Obviously, this is not a “virus,” as the headline claims, and any idiot who reads comments or has been sharing files for more than one day knows all about “password protected” downloads, just like they know about the multitude of fake torrents that litter the filesharing landscape. It’s hardly new–in fact, it’s older than BitTorrent itself. They also skip over a whole bunch of steps between visiting a web site and them having control over your hard drive, but I found it on another “news” report which gave more detail–on the malicious site, you have to go through a whole bunch of steps which includes installing a file on your hard drive and, I presume, giving it access–in other words, a trojan. Again, not a virus.

Looking at all the reports out there, most call this “new,” or the “latest” threat. I imagine the people who have downloaded movies and other files for any length of time must be laughing at the naivete of these “n00b” statements. It’s kind of like saying that if you travel to a big city, you should not stop and chat with the aggressive panhandlers, give them all the cash in your wallet, and provide them with your home address and times you’ll be out so they can “return the money” once things start going well for them. After all, that’s the latest new scam on the streets! Imagine New Yorkers rolling their eyes–or almost anyone, as you’d have to be light-years beyond bumpkinhood to not see that as obvious.

I suppose that this is just what happens in a mostly tech-illiterate media when an antivirus software maker issues yet another press release to stimulate sales.

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Computer Stuff Came

July 7th, 2011 5 comments

Yesterday, I ordered a new computer. Most of it arrived today. It’s my first personal DIY–we’ve done two of these in the club I sponsor at school (third one coming soon), and I wanted a full-featured Windows box at home, for a variety of reasons, the primary of which is that I teach using Windows and so have to use it, and doing it virtually on the Mac can have its drawbacks. Another reason is that it’s new computer gear and (hopefully, depending on what problems may crop up) it’s fun.

The big boxes that just arrived are the case (a Gigabyte GZ-X5 with a 500W power supply) and the monitor (a BenQ G2420HD 24“ LCD display). Amazon put the rest in one box–a 4-core Intel i5 2500K at 3.3 GHz, an ASRock Z68 Extreme4 motherboard, 8GB (4GB x 2) of Kingston 1333MHz DDR3 RAM, a Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM SATA3 HDD, and a Buffalo 12x Blu-Ray burner. I also ordered a Crucial 6GB SATA3 SDD drive to take advantage of the Z68 chipset’s SSD caching feature, but it’s from a third-party seller and might not arrive until the weekend.

The whole purchase set me back just a shade under ¥94,000, but it’s going to be a very nice rig when it’s done. Store-bought, the same rig would cost at minimum an extra couple hundred bucks even with a 2400 i5 and without the Z68 chipset–the cheapest BTO setup I could find. Everything else I found was much more expensive, even with similarly lower specs.

Now I know what I’m doing over the weekend…

Some People Sharing Information = No Right to Privacy

June 30th, 2011 Comments off

In February of this year, Congress introduced new legislation (PDFs here and here) which would allow Internet users to opt out of being tracked by online entities. This usually takes the form of the infamous browser cookies; while you have the ability to view them in your browser, there are typically so many of them that it would be far too cumbersome to sift through the list; deleting them all would mean losing the few which are truly useful, remembering passwords and other key data on sites where you want them to be remembered. What’s more, some cookies are even inaccessible, such as Flash cookies, making it difficult to know who is tracking you and what data they are collecting, even if you could waste the time to track it anyway. The end result is, most people give up and allow themselves, either reluctantly or unknowingly, to be tracked.

The new legislation would prohibit that, requiring an easy online mechanism to opt out of such tracking. The major browsers have included features allowing users to block such tracking, though it falls short of the legislation.

Predictably, business groups hate the legislation; if they can’t track your private information, how can they spam you efficiently enough to offer free crap?

Some Republicans, like Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, are predictably taking industry’s side over that of consumers, claiming that such a mechanism would “break the Internet.” But the justification of invading people’s privacy is the real prize-taker:

“In a world where millions of people voluntarily share very personal information on websites like Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis, I’m not sure exactly what consumer expectations are when it comes to privacy, but I am pretty sure different consumers have different expectations.”

So, because some people choose to share personal information on social networking sites, no one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. That smacks of the mindset which justifies rape if a woman dresses provocatively. Even if everyone shared personal information in such forums, it would not justify the invasion of their privacy in forms they do not approve of. Stalkers cannot justify their actions by saying their victims talked about private details in a coffee shop in a voice loud enough for others to overhear.

Not to mention that Toomey’s point about “different expectations of privacy” is exactly why we should have such an opt-out–so we can be sure that consumer expectations are being met. Suggesting that no one should have privacy because some people might not want it is, frankly, idiotic.

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The App Store and Retailers

June 12th, 2011 1 comment

Computerworld, as usual not seeing the whole picture:

Apple’s decision to sell the Mac OS X Lion upgrade through its own Mac App Store won’t hurt the company’s bottom line but will certainly impact traditional retailers, a market analyst said Friday.

“The Best Buys, the Staples, the PC Connections, they all still have a decent Mac software business,” said Stephen Baker of retail research firm NPD Group. “This will have an impact on all those guys. [The release of an OS upgrade] is always a good opportunity for them to connect to customers, get them into the store and thinking about upgrading their devices.”

That may be, but the real impact of Lion’s upgrade mechanism will be that it forces Apple users to use the App Store at all–something which many are doubtlessly avoiding as they hang on to traditional outlets. Once they are forced to use the App Store to download Lion, they may start looking around, could start finding some good deals, and might recognize that the App Store is a handy one-stop method of buying apps, as well as the later realization that it keeps them up-to-date on upgrades. If they also start seeing lower prices in general, they may start doing what shoppers did when firms like Amazon and Netflix swept them away–rarely if ever going to a brick-and-mortar store to buy media again. Apple started encroaching on the retail market with their own brick-and-mortar stores, now they are simply taking the next logical step–for Apple.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for consumers? Depends on who you ask. The App Store does tend to be a convenience, and can help you find lower prices (perhaps because of its DRM nature). But what about competition? Well, frankly, there’s less of that in the Mac world. Especially with Apple’s stuff–they tend to control prices pretty firmly. There is probably a lot less comparison-shopping out there for Apple stuff than there is for PC stuff. One rather unfortunate side of the Apple world is that sellers assume that Apple users will pay higher prices for everything. I see this in Japan; stores like Labi, for instance, charge way more for Apple gear, despite it being essentially that same stuff as PCs use.

I think the argument could be made that Apple, despite its reputation for premium price tags, is actually saving consumers more–especially when it comes to stuff Apple doesn’t make. They made it a lot cheaper to buy music, no doubt about that–you usually don’t have to buy an album to get the one or two songs you want anymore, and albums themselves are now a lot cheaper digitally. And they made software cheaper with the App Store, especially on mobile platforms. And while some Apple stuff can be pricey, Apple does have its bargains. The iPad was certainly priced to move. And Apple’s office suite traditionally cost only $99, which may have led Microsoft to price their own suite down to a similar level–except now, in the App Store, the suite can be had for $60. And the OS upgrade for Apple, which previously was $130 and cheaper than Microsoft even then, is now $30, as we discover that Snow Leopard was not just an aberration. Let’s see Microsoft match that. I have a feeling that if they priced Windows Ultimate at $50 and MS Office at $75, they might not have as good a profit margin. Apple gets away with it because their profits are driven by hardware; Microsoft doesn’t have that cushion.

The only thing we can be sure of is that Apple will continue to try to slowly rake more and more business its way. Whether it will gain enough market share to let it charge more, or start charging more when it is able, is anyone’s guess. While certainly an outfit bent on making large profits, Apple is clearly not a consumer advocacy organization–but they do seem better at paying attention to customer needs than Microsoft.

New Mac “Malware”

May 6th, 2011 2 comments

I hesitate to really even call it “malware,” because it doesn’t really do what most malware does. It’s more like a scam, social engineering upon social engineering.

If you visit certain web pages, javascript code may automatically download a ZIP file on to your Mac. If Safari is set to automatically unzip files, you will be presented with an Install window which prompts you to install software called “MACDefender.” If you are careless enough to install an app you didn’t even look for, and click “Continue,” and then type in your admin password and complete the install, even then the software apparently doesn’t really “infect” your computer, not like malware usually does.

Instead, it sets itself to start up when your computer does, and informs you, with odd grammar (“This unique module allows to do unbelievable things”), that your computer is infected, and tries to sell you anti-virus software. If you’re still naive enough to buy all of this, you will be led to a web site where, if you buy a license, the fake virus alerts will stop while your credit card account is cleaned out. It is likely, however, that the web site will soon be abandoned, leaving the fake software merely annoying. One can apparently also rid oneself of the software just by throwing it in the trash, though it would be best also to stop its processes, remove mention of it from Startup Items, and see if you can dump any related files from the Library.

This barely qualifies as malware, in that it is software and tries to do something bad. However, it is qualitatively different from viruses, worms, rootkits, and even trojans in that it is nothing more than an avenue to steer you to a scam web site. I would class this more with risks like falling for the guy who claims that his wife is in the hospital across the state and he desperately needs a few bucks to get enough bus fare to see her.

On a similar note, Facebook “malware” is on the rise. People are getting tricked by various scams where you get prompted to see or try something that sounds interesting on Facebook, but it turns out to be a scam which somehow hijacks your Facebook account and sends copies of the scam to your friends. I’ve seen at least three in the past week: one promised to show you people who are “stalking” you on Facebook; another advertised an app that would age your photo by 20 years; and a third, the most pervasive, promised to show pictures or videos of bin Laden dead.

In all of these cases, clicking the link takes you off of Facebook to a site which gives you a snippet of Javascript code, telling you to paste it into the browser window and execute it, promising the desired result if you do. Clearly, trusting that is the mistake people make.

Needless to say, you should never copy and paste any such script into your browser URL window and hit “Enter.” Just as with email spam or viral attachments, it doesn’t matter if it came from a friend. And since this is Javascript in a browser, it doesn’t matter if you have a Mac or a PC. Some of these scams use different methods that may be more platform-specific–a general rule of thumb, then, should be to stay away from anything bin-Laden-oriented if it doesn’t come from a major news site.

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Internet Connections

April 14th, 2011 1 comment

When you tell a Japanese ISP that you want a connection, they give you the same predictable response: it’ll take three to four weeks to hook it up. It’s as if there is an eternal backlog, as that is always the lag time. Why, I cannot guess. It should not be backlog of previous orders, as it is always in effect, no matter what the season; if they were always three weeks behind in orders, all they would have to do is hire some extra people to catch up and then there would be no more problem. Or else, hire a few more people for the long run.

As a result, I can only figure that there is either some regulation causing the delay, or else the ISPs just don’t give a damn and this works for them financially.

I keep forgetting about this, and so in this current moving process, I waited until just after we closed the deal on the house to make the arrangements. Now, that’s what they tell you to do–technically, they are not allowed to start the process until you have officially taken up residence. In the past, when I remembered and planned ahead, I lied about living there and they never knew the difference. This time, I contacted them after we closed on the house, a few weeks before we moved, and kicked myself mentally when they reminded me of the 3-4 weeks thing. I was looking at at least a few weeks without Internet. I was not too worried, though–I had considered doing the 2-week trial for WiMAX during the transition anyway.

Apparently they have learned from customer complaints, however–they have given us a loaner. It’s a USB dongle which seems to use CDMA, but when you use the utility to connect, it claims it’s WiMAX. Huh. So far, in testing I have only gotten 2 Mbps from it–enough, but not exactly what you would expect from WiMAX. KDDI didn’t explain very clearly what the connection is, but whatever.

The problem is, it only gives an Internet connection to one computer–and Sachi and I have four devices that need a connection, one (the iPad) requiring a WiFi hookup. Fortunately, it’s possible to turn your computer into a WiFi hotspot. From what I can tell, to do so with Windows requires that you download and install software called “Connectify.”

On the Mac, however, the capability is built-in. In System Preferences, you can open Sharing and then activate Internet Sharing, choosing which connection (Ethernet, WiFi, FireWire) to share. Then just use the network menu in the menu bar to create a network, give it a name and password, and that’s it. I tested it at the new house and it works great–I was able to get a strong signal from anywhere else in the house.

For fun, I might also do the 2-week free trial for WiMax anyway; you go in and sign up, and they give you your choice of base station (e.g., fixed or portable), and you take it home. I have a feeling that they won’t make it that easy–there will doubtlessly be a form and I’ll have to register my credit card, and ending without signing a contract will probably be a hassle.

In the meantime, KDDI has picked up on a trick used by cell phone carriers (which, via “au,” they are), and is now hooking customers with two-year contracts by overcharging for setup fees. In the past, ISPs I contract with either offer a free setup, or a setup fee around 10,000 yen which they immediately discount. Now, however, KDDI is telling me that setup fees are 31,500 yen (about $375). When they tell you this, they know you’ll object, so the reps are trained, when they mention this, to immediately, without pause, add that this is spread out of 24 months, and KDDI discounts 1/24th of the fee each month–so long as you stay with KDDI.

In short, it’s an artificial way of forcing customers to stay with their business for at least two years, styled after the telephone companies’ subsidization plans for cell phones like the iPhone.

I’m not fazed by it, primarily because it works out the same in the end–I’ve been with KDDI for some time and their service is pretty good, plus they have English tech support. I was, however, amused by the rather blatant artificial fee and the transparent hook. I am now wondering where else I will see the 2-year “deal” appear, and what fees previously discounted freely will be parceled out to keep customers on the line. I also wonder why it’s always two years; is there some law which prevents companies from stringing it out longer?

Of interest: up until now, we have been using KDDI’s 100 Mbps fiber optic service. When I arranged for service at the new house, they informed me that the 100 Mbps service is no longer available.

The only fiber-optic plan they offer is 1 Gbps. Monthly fees are ¥4,777. With IP telephone services, it’s ¥6,090.

While 1 Gbps sounds nice, it’s also overkill. I am also kind of irked that I am paying not for just one, but for three Internet connections: the home connection, and two cell phone data plans. If I want to get a connection with my iPad anywhere I go, that would be another connection–and each one is up to 5000 yen ($60) a month–pricey, to say the least.

When the iPhone 4’s contract comes up, WiMAX should have its 300 Mbps service going. I will be sorely tempted to terminate our fiber-optic connection, keep using our iPhone 4s without data plans, and instead get two WiMAX accounts. That way, we’ll always have connections for all of our devices, at less cost than we have now.

Ideally, ISPs and carriers will catch on and offer an “Internet everywhere” family plan, which will do the same thing for a flat fee. Not that I’m holding my breath.

The Internet and the Earthquake

March 17th, 2011 2 comments

Imagine this happening in 1990. Local TV and radio would be all people in Japan would have, maybe satellite TV. Imagine phone lines being even more overloaded than they are now, and cell phones not even an option except for those most on the cutting edge, and probably those wouldn’t work, either. Probably most of Japan would be dark as far as communication is concerned. In the current crisis, the people of Japan are probably getting an appreciation for the Internet that people in African and Middle Eastern countries have recently had.

Right after the quake, when phones were not working, the Internet never missed a beat. Within minutes of the quake, I was accessing Google News via the 3G connection on my iPhone, even before the first stories hit the web. People have been able to email pretty much solidly since the quake hit. People have connected over Facebook and kept each other informed over Twitter. Blogs have chronicled life after the quake. innumerable cell phones equipped with hi-def video cameras caught hundreds if not thousands of views of the quake, with countless images taken of, well, just about everything.

In short, we have stayed connected, fully, both ways, all ways. The disaster has been documented as none other before. What a relief this is for so many who otherwise might wait days or even weeks to get news from relatives, or at least those receiving good news; and even for others, it is still better than not knowing for so long. What a resource–both good and bad–of news, allowing us to get information from all directions, for better or for worse.

In so many recent crises, this has been an invaluable resource, even to the point we may not have imagined just a few years ago. I have to wonder what more value we will find from it in the future, and how historians will look back at this time when this network became available and began to show its worth.

Just a Reminder

March 8th, 2011 3 comments

Here is the far-sighted Steve Ballmer, from an interview on April 30, 2007, after the iPhone was announced but before its release:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

Hard to believe that was just four years ago. In the same interview, he also called Apple a “one-trick pony” because it is “a hardware company.”

Today, Apple’s iPhone holds 27% of the cell phone market–ten times the 2% or 3% Ballmer predicted–and is challenged mainly by Android, an OS given away for free and used by many cell phone makers. Where is Microsoft? Fighting to remain relevant in the cell phone market, Microsoft’s market share is shrinking, currently at only 10%–down from about 40% when Ballmer gave the interview. What’s more, Neilsen, which came out with those ratings, noted that “an analysis by manufacturer shows RIM and Apple to be the winners compared to other device makers since they are the only ones creating and selling smartphones with their respective operating systems.”

Apple, in other words, is both a hardware and a software company–whereas Microsoft, ironically, is primarily a software company–far more of a “one-trick pony” than Apple. Apple, in fact, is branching out, as a reseller (the highly successful iTunes store now resells third-party music, video, books, and software), an advertising firm (iAds), and yes, is even starting to establish itself in enterprise solutions. Apple, in fact, is spreading out into new areas, while Microsoft is just struggling to hold on to what it has, and is shrinking in some areas. It is telling that despite Microsoft still holding perhaps 85-90% of the worldwide OS market share, Apple now has a market cap of $331.66 billion to Microsoft’s $218.06 billion.

One has to wonder if Ballmer still prefers his position to that of Apple’s.

Sorry, Gizmodo, You Lost Me

February 9th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve liked Gizmodo’s content, despite some of their more outrageously invasive ad setups. But now they’ve completely lost me. I often open up the site as one of many links opened at the same time–click click click click click, then visit the opened pages one by one. When I got to Gizmodo recently, however, I thought it was an error–it was a single article with a huge ad at the top. I figured it was some kind of page opened up by another page as a kind of ad, or that I had clicked on some errant link somewhere and not realized it.

But no, it was Gizmodo’s new site: instead of its classic list of stories you can skim and choose from, the new site opens on a single full article, with its sponsors’ giant ad flashing across the top. The list is still there, but now it’s an independently-scrolling sidebar, and kinda awkward to scroll through at that. You can return to the “classic” list view (there’s the giant ad again), but now the list is far shorter than before, and each time you go to a new page, you get–surprise! the giant ad again.

Not worth it, Giz. I was already fed up with trying to get the ability to post comments (verification emails didn’t come through, and once when I did get it, after a short time my account stopped working, and then later my data got stolen as part of your database hack–way to go). I had been frustrated by the site’s “helpful” localization “feature.” But this is just too far. I know you gotta make money, but there’s such a thing as becoming too obnoxious about it. Way too obnoxious.

Seriously, sites: static ads–better yet, text ads, Google-style, and you won’t find me even trying to bother with ad-blocking plug-ins. Make them contextual to the story I’m viewing and I’ll probably even click through from time to time. But making your site a morass of crap shoved in my face just won’t cut it.

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Knowing When to Dial It Back

January 16th, 2011 Comments off

Have you ever been surfing the web in a quiet place, maybe at home where others are sleeping, or maybe even in a coffee shop with gentle jazz playing over muted conversation–and then stumbled across a web page that starts playing loud music or some stupid ad and you forgot your volume had been turned up all the way? Beyond startling yourself, it can be pretty damned embarrassing. Worse if you just opened six or so links and you have to figure out which new page is blaring at you, before you remember that you have a mute button for the computer itself and scramble to hit it.

There are some things web pages should never do, and one of them is to start playing unsolicited audio content.

The schmucks at ABC News now load a 30-second video commercial on every single news story page you access. I don’t mean that when you try to access video, I mean when you try to access print. A video window accompanies every story, and it starts playing video, whether you like it or not. And the audio is always on by default, no matter what you set previously. The pause button is grayed out, so you can’t stop it. If you let the news story run, it plays for 2-3 minutes–and then you get another commercial, followed by the next news story in the queue.

The only more annoying thing I can think of are the long commercials–sometimes also 30 seconds–run before videos on “Funny or Die,” where sometimes the clips themselves are only a few seconds long.

Such “must endure” commercials are bad enough usually when you ask for video content (the same commercial tends to repeat every time, for example). It’s even worse when a 10-paragraph story is divided into three pages so you have to reload and get the commercials all over again every time you “turn the page.”

But to start playing video, with no warning or option to turn it off, is simply asinine.

I’ve said it before, I would not use an ad blocker at all if the ads would simply stay still. For appropriate ad content, I would even voluntarily sign up to some kind of service where I would tell them what kind of stuff I want to buy so they could ad least make the ads less irritating. But that’s not an option. So instead, the more intrusive they get, the more I avoid those sites. The scripted “pop-up” rectangles you have to dismiss (got around the pop-up blockers, didn’t they?), the floating ads which annoyingly bounce up and down the side while you scroll–these are getting more and more distracting and maddening.

I had backed off on my ad blocking, but now I am ramping up again, as well as adding to my do-not-visit list. I know they gotta pay for stuff, but it’s as if they completely ignore the annoyance factor. If movie theaters have to advertise, for instance, they would get no business if they stopped the movie every five minutes, had people go up to every patron and thump their shoulders, and then shout an obnoxious ad message at them before resuming the show.

So Much for WiMAX

December 8th, 2010 1 comment

Well, I had to struggle through in Japanese and deal with reps who like to say “that’s not my department” or the like, but I seem to have resolved that WiMAX simply is not an option for us–yet.

I imagined that we would get the WiMAX account and have a WiFi router at home, while I took a portable pocket WiFi router with me to work, using it on the train and wherever else.

Alas, UQ is having none of that. It turns out that while they allow any number of devices to use a WiFi signal from any WiFi router, and they have an option that allows you to access the same WiMAX account from two different WiFi routers (extra charge for that), they do not allow two WiFi routers to access the same account at the same time.

Meaning that if Sachi is using the Internet at home and I start using it at work, Sachi gets kicked off–and then I get kicked off if she tries to re-establish a connection.

In short, they really just want one location using the connection at a time–a deal-killer for us.

Now, I suppose I can understand this–if they didn’t do that, there would be nothing stopping two friends living in different locations, say, from sharing one account and splitting the difference.

The problem is, WiMAX’s whole appeal is its portability–and not allowing home and away to access at the same time completely obliterates that advantage for anyone who lives with other people. For us to use it the way I’d hoped, I would have to get two accounts. However, that would have zero advantage over simply keeping our current fiber-optic connection and adding WiMAX to it, and we’re not going to pay for two concurrent Internet connections. Not when we’re already paying for mobile data plans to boot. I was ready to give up F/O speeds for portability, but paying double is simply not something I’m willing to do.

Ah well. Now we’ll just have to wait until they come around on that part of things. If they ever do. At this rate, however, 4G/LTE will probably roll around and obviate WiMAX’s advantage before they get their act together. Too bad.

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WiMAX, Anyone?

December 8th, 2010 3 comments

Just wanted to know if anyone reading this has tried WiMAX in Tokyo, knows how to deal with UQ, and can give advice. I am thinking of switching to the service, but their plans are, erm, rather “detailed.” Looks like with a one-year subscription you can get a good rate (¥3,880 per month), but cannot make out the technical details associated with it. They also have a “multiple devices” option, which I would need if Sachi uses the Internet at home while I use it away, but I can’t discern if by “device” they mean a device which changes the WiMAX signal to WiFi, or if they mean a device which gets on the WiFi network created by that device. Huge difference–we have half a dozen computers and mobile devices we would use with WiFi. There’s also a trial you can do for free–as you can imagine, with all these, there are so many details, dealing with just a web form is less than ideal.

I created a special temporary email address, shown in the image below (sorry, even temp addresses get scammed almost immediately); if you have any info, I’d very much appreciate it if you could let me know. Alternately, you could leave information in the comments. Naturally, when and if I get the service myself, I’ll be blogging on the experience.



Do Not Follow

December 2nd, 2010 Comments off

Boy, this would definitely not have happened with the FTC under Bush. The commission is recommending that online users have a right to expect online privacy, and propose that Congress pass a “Do Not Follow” system in which, by pressing a button in a browser, a user could opt to not have his or her online activity monitored.

Before you get all excited, it is not (necessarily) about the RIAA tracking your IP address as you download the latest Black Eyed Peas album from The Pirate Bay. Instead, it’s about advertisers collecting, analyzing, combining, using, and sharing your “purchasing behavior, online browsing habits and other online and offline activity.”

What caught my eye in this report was a statement in protest of this proposal, by Mike Zaneis of the Interactive Advertising Bureau:

Most people would rather get a relevant ad rather than an irrelevant ad, which is by definition, spam.

This explains a lot. First, the guy thinks that a message is spam only if it’s not relevant. That’s an interesting definition–and dead wrong. Spam is unsolicited advertising, not non-relevant advertising. Now, spam is less annoying if it’s about things you want to buy, but it’s still spam. But Zaneis didn’t even use the term “wanted,” he said “relevant,” which is a significant distinction.

Second, the statement completely sidesteps the more important issue–privacy–as if a user’s expectations of privacy were completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, when in fact they are absolute in this case. This is not about annoying people, this is about protecting people from invasion and predation.

Of course, when advertising is your business and predation is your primary tool, you would naturally want to redefine unfavorable terms describing exactly what you do as being something else.

Naturally, the industry would prefer to keep on doing what they’re doing: invade your privacy, usually in an aggressive manner you are not even aware of, and bury you in ads. Allowing people to navigate the Internet without such predation is not what they want:

The online advertising industry, Mr. Zaneis said, would suffer “significant economic harm” if the government controlled the do-not-track mechanism and there was “a high participation rate similar to that of do not call.”

And if the government were to make it illegal to point a weapon at people and make an aggressive plea for monetary transfer, the mugging industry would also suffer “significant economic harm.”

Here’s an idea: Give people the option of telling you which ads they want to see. It does not have to be tracked by name, location, or IP address–instead, have a dialog box in the browser where a person can select categories of ads they would prefer to see, with the option of adding keywords. That data would then be used to target the ad types, while keeping user data anonymous. This allows advertisers to deliver targeted ads, makes the browsing experience much more pleasant, and protects privacy, all at the same time.

Add the ability to state a preference for static (non-moving) ads, and I myself would probably uninstall my ad-blocking software.

That Computer Stuff Won’t Sell Itself, You Know. Not in This Store.

November 21st, 2010 1 comment

In Bellevue, WA, just outside of Redmond, Microsoft opened a new Microsoft Store, just three doors down from the pre-existing Apple Store.

In the past, Microsoft Store openings have been lackluster, with only a few hundred people at the opening (photos look crowded because a lot of the people are Microsoft staff), and the crowds dry up after just a few hours when the hoopla has ended.

So when Microsoft opened their new store just a few miles from their HQ, they undoubtedly figured that they had to do something to avoid looking like losers.

The answer? Make it a day-long event so crowds don’t leave too early. First, get Dave Matthews to play live (make sure he plays later in the day so people will hang around). But hmm, that may not be enough. So let’s also give away 4000 free Miley Cyrus concert tickets (which, according to reports, was the real reason most people came). While we’re at it, let’s bring in a DJ and a dance group to entertain people in line, and serve them meals from a food truck. And let’s use the event to give a few million dollars to local schools and non-profits so people from those places will be obligated to show up. And just to be safe, pack the store with 50 employees, trained to act all excited and get people pumped up.

All Apple has to do is open the doors. I’m just saying.

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Why I Hate Registering for Comments

October 11th, 2010 2 comments

It happens almost every time. You see a news story you’d really like to comment on. They make you register, which means they want advertising info on you, already a pain in the ass. But this time, you’re motivated enough to give it a try. So you fill out your birth year and ZIP code and crap like that (absolutely necessary for commenting on a web news story, naturally), then click “register”…

And of course, nothing happens. They send you no confirmation email. So you sit there wondering, “Well, will it come in the next five minutes? Should I wait an hour?” Nothing in spam, nothing in the Inbox. The account checks out fine, is functioning. Their site claims it should only take a few minutes, but has no option to reapply quickly with another account, they only suggest something must be wrong on your side. And you just know that if you try to reapply again, you’ll meet a mess of problems, like they’ll tell you that your user name is now taken, or the password cannot be re-used, or something else will go wrong–and if it doesn’t, then you’ll just have the same problem as before–no email will come.

And now you’ve wasted half an hour trying to make a stupid damned comment on a news story.

If this had only happened to me once or twice, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it doesn’t. More than half of all large sites’ registration processes I have tried to access, over several years, have given me this frustration, which is why I rarely attempt it any more.

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October 7th, 2010 2 comments

Went to CEATEC today. Lots of cool stuff. Heard one piece of news that may make me change over: WiMAX, already tempting as an Internet-everywhere solution for $50/mo. for (theoretically) 40 Mbps, will be converting to WiMAX version 2 in 2012. The speed of the new wide-coverage wireless Internet? 330 Mbps. Yep–three times faster than current fiber-optic speeds offered in Japan. (Again, theoretically.) And it’ll work when you’re at high speed, like when the bullet train you’re on is going faster than 300 km/hr.

The portable, battery-powered WiFi converters (which take the WiMAX signal and translate it into WiFi emanating from your backpack or pocket) also are available, meaning you can have a mobile WiFi signal with you all the time (that you’re not underground) for your laptop, iPad, and even the iPhone if you want to keep the data plan charges to a minimum.

More on this later.

The Future of Television That Probably Won’t Be

August 26th, 2010 Comments off

Seven years ago, I wrote a three-part blog post (parts one, two and three) on what I saw as being the future of television. And despite the fact that TV content producers seem intent on taking a very different course, I stand by my assertion that the system I described back then would be the best available, given the bandwidth.

My idea was based upon the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting, and how ad revenue is generated. Currently, television initially generates revenue by being broadcast over the airwaves, carrying advertising (more and more each year, it seems) during the commercial breaks. The problem: it is difficult to create an ad that will appeal to more than just a small portion of the audience. You are sending the exact same ad to millions of people who are so varied that most will not respond to the ad, and some may even have a negative reaction to it. As a result, the effectiveness of ads is only a tiny percent of what is possible, wasting the vast majority of ad revenue potential.

In recent years, another two revenue streams have appeared for these shows: sales of DVD sets, and, similar in certain ways but different in others, online sales of the episodes. While ads may still play into them, these versions mostly make their money by the customer paying up-front. A season of a TV show on DVD might range from less than $20 to up to $100. TV shows for download often cost $2 an episode.

There are significant problems with these models. As mentioned above, TV broadcasting is massively inefficient. Add to that the fact that shows are dribbled out by day or week, disappear and are inaccessible for months or years at a time, and appear only on a pre-determined schedule which is easy to miss. Not very user-friendly.

Sales of DVDs had an initial burst, but now the medium is struggling a bit more. People are catching on to the fact that paying $150 for a full series of TV shows seemed like a good idea at first, but later realize that they might never watch it again. Furthermore, since these must be bought physically, they are not available on demand, immediately on a whim. (Services like Netflix successfully play to these weaknesses.)

And not many people are going to cough up $2 to watch something they can get on TV for free, or can be bought cheaper by season on Blu-ray with HDTV quality and extra features like deleted scenes, outtakes, commentary and featurettes. Frankly, I never understood that model at all. In fact, the whole idea of paying for TV is still relatively alien to many people: TV has been free for most of our lives, and many almost see it as an expected right. I’d be willing to wager that if you polled people and asked if it was wrong to pirate software, movies, books, and TV shows, most would say it was wrong to pirate the first three, but few would have as much problem with pirating TV shows. They’re on TV, after all!

All of this is tainted more by the senseless paranoia of the content producers and their fear of piracy and loss of control, which pushes them to add DRM and other restrictive features that only hurt paying customers, and result in more people resorting to piracy.

In 2003, I suggested a different take: targeted advertising and narrowcasting. Put all TV and a great deal of movie content on the web, for unlimited free streaming and viewing at any time the viewer desires. The cost: the viewer must make their commercial preferences known, filling in a bit of information once a month. When the viewer then asks for a presentation of media, the content, originally with blank spaces for advertising, is filled with ads that are targeted at that one viewer.

The benefits for all sides is great. First, the viewers: they not only get everything they want, a virtually unlimited, all-you-can-eat buffet of on-demand content, but it’s free of charge. And while there are as many commercials as before, there is a huge benefit: the commercials are all ones that you want to see.

That’s the secret: by filling out some personal info, specifically (a) what are your interests, (b) what do you plan to purchase in the near future, and (c) what kind of commercials do you like, in addition to a few other bits of indicative data, TV ads could be transformed into something the viewer will want to watch. Currently, commercials are things to avoid–mute the sound and take a kitchen or bathroom break. But the truth is, there are commercial we all want to see. But because commercials today are broadcast, perhaps 97% of them don’t interest us, so we tend to skip them all.

But what if the commercials were directed at your interests? For example, if the ads were all for movies, new books, computer stuff, and some other things I am interested in, I would probably be interested in staying with the commercials, watching them all and letting them have their hypnotic, subliminal way with my subconscious.

There could even be feedback, a “next” switch for commercials–if an ad comes up that you don’t like, just zap it with the remote. This could be used to build up data on what you do and do not like, and so be utilized to weed out the remaining commercials that you don’t want to see–kind of like Apple’s “Genius” feature in iTunes. This could also be used to sharpen their targeting; random ads could be tossed into your mix, and by analyzing what you zap, they can build up a scenario of what new stuff they can throw at you which you might like.

The benefit for advertisers should be abundantly clear: the efficiency of ads rockets from single-digits to near-perfection. Instead of people turning off ads, people will stay and watch them, and might even look forward to them. Even good commercials suffer from the taint of being commercials, with all the negativity currently associated with that medium. But if people begin to like commercials, their effectiveness will increase beyond just the growth in targeted exposure.

This will, in the end, benefit the content producers the most: because each ad sold will be up to 20 times more effective, they can up the revenue that much more. And since viewers will not mind the commercials so much, they won’t get as much blowback for adding more ads, up to a certain point of course.

But the best part is that by making the content freely available over the Internet, you completely defeat the problem of piracy. Downloading pirated stuff is not too difficult, but most people would much prefer a free alternative, and would certainly find it easier to use. If the model I describe were used, then there would be no need to resort to piracy, unless you are religiously opposed to advertising of any kind, or are the kind of person who refuses to divulge any info about yourself.

And that would be the point probably most focused-on with this system: giving up personal data. For a long time, many people have been concerned about what data is collected about them, and how it is used and potentially abused. Privacy looms large, and admittedly, the model I describe above seems to ask the viewer to surrender a great deal of that privacy.

Well, yes and no. First of all, we surrender privacy every day. When you join new web services, buy something online, or download free software, chances are you are giving away a good deal of private information, including your name, age, email addresses, physical addresses, profession, and a lot of other stuff. We commonly post personal information online, from our profile on social networking sites, to our hobbies and preferences in telling people what we like, to our political and religious feelings on blogs and forums.

Advertisers already suck in volumes of data about us. Take that supermarket member card that’s in your wallet, which you have no problem swiping at Safeway to get the “discounts” connected to it. That card is connected to your name, address, and other info they get from you and about you via other means (including public land ownership records, career info, etc.). Every time you buy stuff with it, they record what you bought, how much you bought, when you bought it and at what price, and use that data for advertising and for presentation & pricing of goods they sell you. Similar goes for your credit card trail, and other things you use without thinking about them.

The fact is, you already hand out, usually for no actual benefit to you, far more information than I propose is involved in the system I laid out. In fact, if privacy is truly a concern, then the system could be set up so that the data collected for this TV system would be completely unconnected to your name and public identity. The reason they collect your name, address, and other data is so they can use it to predict what you’ll want to buy. In the system I propose, they don’t need to do that. Frankly, I don’t think they really care what your name and address are; they only want to make money off of you. And if you are telling them exactly what you are interested in buying, what you’re looking for, then they don’t need that info, and could easily do without it.

So when you join this system, you could do so anonymously; your name and address are never asked for and never given. Nothing needs ever be tracked back to you personally. By giving more personal information, the system becomes more private.

I truly see this as being the optimal system for everyone. There’s a problem, though: fear, stupidity and greed. (Aren’t they always the problem?)

What set me off on this topic? This story about Apple’s rumored plan to rent TV shows for 99 cents. Frankly, I see this as still too expensive. Sure, better than regular TV because the ads aren’t there and it’s on my schedule, but worse than buying the DVD later on because the resolution is poorer, there are no extra features, and you don’t get to keep them.

But the content producers are calling this new model dangerous. Why? Because they saw the music industry lose their evil, usurious model, and fear that somehow something similarly bad will happen to them. So they shy away from even a model which would still be far from perfect and skitter back to even less perfect models.

Argh. It frustrates me to see them wear their fear and greed so transparently, to be so idiotic in their pursuit of fleecing the public, when it seems that a far superior system is available–but they are just backing away from it, step by fear-filled, idiotic, greedy step.

Microsoft Takes Shots at Macs

August 13th, 2010 9 comments

Microsoft has recently posted a list of supposed advantages over the Mac–revisiting the eternal “Mac vs. PC” comparison debate. So, how do they rate? Some hits, some misses, some rather laughable claims. One way the list tries to pad itself out is by comparing hardware–which Microsoft does not produce–in addition to the OS, and because there are a large number of companies making multiple lines of computers trying to fit all niches, Apple by itself cannot possibly match every single one of them. So naturally there will be many things that Microsoft can claim which will sting… but the fact that they had to pad the list like this is kind of telling. Microsoft starts out the list with the major points, but then quickly devolves.

Under the heading, “Macs might spoil your fun”:

It’s showtime – You can’t get a Mac that ships with a Blu-ray player, TV tuner, Memory Stick reader, or built-in 3G wireless. You can with PCs running Windows 7.

This is a recurring theme in the list: “Many PCs can do things Macs can’t.” True–and many PCs can’t, either. And few, if any PCs can do all of those things–so even with a Windows PC, you still won’t have all the features that are possible.

One odd point in that list: “Memory Stick reader”? Did the Sony Memory Stick suddenly become popular when I wasn’t looking? Macs now ship with SD card readers, which tend to be the most popular type.

But Blu-ray, yes–that’s one that stings. Jobs calls it “a bag of hurt” without being too clear on the why and wherefore. He mentioned the “licensing of the tech,” but that doesn’t necessarily explain why other makers seem to be OK with it. He also mentioned that the format hasn’t “taken off yet,” which shows one Apple weakness–the delay in adopting many new standards. It took way too long to get SD readers, for example, and even the original USB was a bit long in waiting. No doubt USB3 will have a similar lag as well, and probably WiMax too.

Game on – Most of the world’s most popular computer games aren’t available for Macs. And Macs can’t connect to an Xbox 360. PCs are ready to play.

The games claim is mostly true–if you’re a serious gaming aficionado, then a souped-up PC makes more sense. That said, Macs can run Windows and do Windows gaming; Microsoft is playing with the difference between the OS and the hardware here, claiming each one is the main topic whenever it is to their advantage. And connecting to an X-Box? Um, OK. If that’s your thing.

One more point comes up here: stuff that Microsoft can claim now but maybe not for too much longer. Macs are making gains in the gaming world, and as student adoption of Macs continues to skyrocket, so will the Mac ports for popular games. And hey, let’s not even mention the iPad or the iPhone here, right?

These points, however, are the main ones–advanced hardware on some PCs and a bias for the Windows OS when it comes to gaming. One could point to similar advantages for the Mac, primarily the hardware/OS/software symphony, excellent tech support, superior user experience, and ability to run all other OS’s in emulator mode. Microsoft of course does not mention points where it is at a disadvantage, nor should it. But they’re there, nonetheless.

Direct TV connection – Most Macs can’t hook up to your TV unless you buy a converter dongle. Many PCs running Windows 7 are designed to connect directly to TVs, so you can watch movies and see photos on the big screen.

Ooooo… you have to pay five bucks for a converter. Deal killer, that. And as with a point above, not all PCs have this themselves, though a lot do. But that can be counted as an advantage for Windows–you can choose between hundreds of varying systems for exactly the specs you want (though that also has its disadvantages built-in as well).

But this point–HDMI out–has a short shelf life: the Mac Mini has HDMI out. Meaning more Macs will have it soon as well. Oh well, so much for that advantage. Add it to the list of things Microsoft can only claim for the moment.

The claims start to get laughable in the “ease of use” category. The main point: if you’ve only used Windows all your life, it’ll take time to get used to a Mac. But then, if you used MS-DOS, using Windows 3.1 took a long time to get used to also. Are you still using MS-DOS? Yeah.

Under “Macs can take time to learn”:

The computer that’s easiest to use is typically the one you already know how to use. While some may say Macs are easy, the reality is that they can come with a learning curve. PCs running Windows 7 look and work more like the computers you’re familiar with, so you can get up and running quickly.

See? “Stick with Windows: it may be harder to use and more frustrating overall, but we’ve got you hooked because it’s the only thing you know. Don’t bother to take the week or so to discover an OS which is easier to use.”

Their next point: very different!

Working smoothly – Things just don’t work the same way on Macs if you’re used to a PC. For example, the mouse works differently. And many of the shortcuts you’re familiar with don’t work the same way on a Mac.

Oh, wait. Just more specific. Oooh, you’re never gonna get used to the Command key instead of the Control key!

Essentially, Microsoft is saying that Windows has the advantage because it’s different. Not better, just that there are minor differences and you don’t want to have to spend even a few days to get used to different keys. Suckerrrssss!

Use Windows 7 to simplify your life – Windows 7 was designed to make it simpler to do the tasks you do every day, with features that the Mac doesn’t have. For example, the new Snap feature makes it easy to view two documents side by side.

Yes, everything is much simpler than on a Mac! Like installing and deleting softw… um, wait. No, like switching between open windo… ohh. Hmm. Or connecting to a printerrr… well, how about using a USB sti… um…

But hey, you can make two folder windows occupy either half of the screen in Windows like that! Suck it, Apple!

Touch and go – Unlike Macs, many PCs running Windows 7 support Touch, so you can browse online newspapers, flick through photo albums, and shuffle files and folders–using nothing but your fingers. PCs with a fingerprint reader even let you log in with just a swipe of your finger.

Touch screen? On your desktop or laptop? They’re gushing about that? Touch is wasted on those, and on devices where touch is actually useful–phones and tablets–Apple is way ahead. Not to mention Apple’s trackpads put just about any PC’s to shame. Guess which is closer to the keyboard and easier to use?

And the fingerprint reader? Hah! Maybe some people like that, but I’ve never met one. I had a student bring in her Windows laptop, and she hated having to swipe her finger every time, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. A colleague boasted about the feature, but when I asked him, he admitted that he never used it.

The above points fall into the category of “glitzy features which look cool but you wind up not using.” Not really an advantage to the end user.

Microsoft is clearly aware of the fact that businesses are starting to wake up to Apple gear, and especially that Macs are beginning to dominate the education market (mouse over chart at right to see details). In their section titled “Macs don’t work as well at work or at school”:

If most of the computers in your office or school run Windows you may find it harder to get things done with a Mac.

Not really. If a Windows PC’s network connections are not pre-set by the IT staff, I find it far easier to connect using my Mac.

In any case, the claim here is again based on Windows predominance–not that it’s easier or better, but rather coasting on the fact that there are more PCs around than Macs. When the fact is, if you change all your equipment to Macs, it’s far easier to network, connect, and maintain, with less IT costs. Which is why a lot of IT departments steer away from Macs.

Sharing documents and spreadsheets – If you use Apple’s productivity suite, sharing files with PC users can be tricky. Your documents might not look right and your spreadsheets might not calculate correctly.

Once again, “We’re not better–we’re just what you’re stuck with.” And interesting that Microsoft seems to forget that Office is on the Mac. Is that defective too? Besides which, I’ve seen the same issues pop up between people using different versions of the same software on PCs–like Office 2000 and Office 2007–not to mention what happens when you try to use another computer without the same selection of fonts. Especially different languages–something the Mac handles smoothly, but Windows does very badly.

As for portability of documents from computer to computer, let’s not forget that PowerPoint is an absolute nightmare when it comes to sounds and video–something my students discover every semester when they make a PowerPoint presentation on their home computers and then bring it in to work. Even if they keep their audio and video files all together in one directory, copying that directory onto a new computer will cause PowerPoint to forget many of the paths

Giving presentations – You’ll have to buy a separate hardware dongle to plug your Mac into a standard VGA projector. Most PCs with Windows 7 hook up easily.

Again with the $5 adaptor. Does that really make people turn away from a better system? It’s like saying, “Buy a Hyundai instead of a Porsche, because the door handles are smoother!” And while we’re talking about PowerPoint, here’s a one-word argument for the Mac: Keynote.

Protecting your drives – On a Mac, out of the box, you can only encrypt your home folder. With Windows 7 Ultimate, you can encrypt your entire hard drive and even USB drives. So your stuff can be safer wherever you go.

I don’t know about this feature so I can’t speak to it. Except to say that nobody I know uses the feature on either system. This may be something a few users think about, but most people will just shrug and walk away.

We get to funny stuff again in sharing: “Macs don’t like to share.”

Securely share your movies, music, and photos – With a Mac, it’s harder to set up secure sharing for your photos, music & movies, documents, and even printers with other computers on your home network. With HomeGroup, it’s easy to connect all the computers in your house running Windows 7.

Yeah, but if you have XP or Vista on any computers, tough luck.

As for secure sharing, it’s called WiFi with WPA2–or, in other words, the industry standard. Set it up–easy. Then all the Macs just show in the sidebar. At worst, you have to turn on file sharing in the System Prefs and make a directory shared by clicking a checkbox in the “Get Info” window.

I have not tried “HomeGroup” yet, but from looking at tutorials, HomeGroups seem way, way harder. This tutorial goes over an eleven-step “exercise” (seriously, they call it that) which shows how to create such a network–on one computer. The second page has twenty steps to add another computer.

Simple as pie! Making pie, that is! Very difficult pie!

Is it really more out-of-the-box than that? Because from what Microsoft is claiming, a 31-step process is hardly “automatic.”

After this, it’s just repetition: another section titled “Macs might not like your PC stuff” is a re-hash of “it’s not good because it’s not a PC,” and the “Macs don’t let you choose” is a rehash of the Blu-ray and other media points with “you can’t choose pretty colors” tossed in.

Seriously, if this is all that Microsoft has got to prove it’s better than Macs, they’re in much bigger trouble than even I thought.

What they put up essentially boils down to this:

Macs don’t feature high-end built-in peripherals like some PCs have, and the PC remains a superior gaming platform. PCs also sometimes have cool but useless doo-dads like fingerprint scanners. Macs more often need adaptor cables. The Windows OS has a few nice features which are not found on the Mac.

Otherwise, the main reason to buy a PC is because it’s what you know, and you might have slight problems dealing with cross-platform compatibility.

Seriously, I think even I could have slapped together a better case for PCs than that. The problem is less one of running out of things to talk about and more one of bad writing.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

The Slow Surge

August 4th, 2010 6 comments

Windows 7 is now “surging forward,” Ars Technica wrote. After just 9 months, it has overtaken Vista, which has been on the market for three and a half years. Sounds impressive, no?

Well, not so much. Windows 7 has so far claimed about 16% of the Windows crowd. And we should remember that Vista started gaining market share well before its official release–at it’s release, it already had about a 4% chunk of the Windows market, meaning that it’s growth is just about 1.3% per month. Better than Vista’s anemic 1% growth, but not by much. And though it has outgrown Vista’s 3.5-year number in 9 months, it did so by decreasing Vista’s share, eating away at Vista as it grew–it did not get there by only outpacing Vista, which is what many might assume from the “overtaking Vista” headlines.

Consider this: Mac OS X v. 10.6, Snow Leopard, got more than 55% of Mac users to switch in the same time period–almost three times the rate. Sure, Snow Leopard was cheap, but this pace of adoption is typical of Mac OS systems.

Another point to consider: where did Win 7’s share come from? Well, it turns out that about 2/3rds comes from XP’s share, and the other 1/3rd is from Vista. Considering that this started with XP having about 78% and Vista about 21% of all Windows users, that means Win 7 is drawing significantly more from the Vista crowd by proportion–Seven stole away about 14% of the XP crowd, but about 24% of the Vista crowd. Not to mention that most of the XP share taken by Seven is simply people buying new computers with Windows 7 pre-installed.

Not to mention that the trend is going to have to change soon: at this rate, it will take Seven a whole 20 months just to equal XP’s share. When official support for XP is finally removed, the trend will likely shift faster, but not by much, as people simply keep using older systems, or continue to re-install XP on new machines.

All this begs the question: why is Windows OS adoption so glacially slow? Mac OS adoption is lightning fast by comparison, even when released at full price. And considering the disaster Vista was, why didn’t most Vista users quickly upgrade to Seven?

SevenworksThere are several reasons. One is that most XP users continue to use machines that simply cannot support Windows 7. XP users who could upgrade may be staying away because of the bad reputation Vista imparted, making XP users wary. Then there’s the comfort factor, with XP working quite nicely enough, many wouldn’t want to change–the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” contingent.

None of these, however, explain why, after a year or so of being available, three-quarters of Vista users have not made the upgrade.

One reason strikes me as perhaps as a likely explanation: upgrading Windows is not the easy task it is on OS X, and the main reason for that is hardware drivers. Even with Win 7’s better driver support, I have talked to people who tried to upgrade and found that stuff on their computer wouldn’t work right, if at all. A case in point: when we made the DIY computer at my school, we bought a Sony Vaio monitor. The monitor has a built-in web cam. It doesn’t work. Why? Because Sony only released drivers with the OS sold with the Sony. The web is filled with people trying to find drivers for Windows machines.

Now, Windows 7 has much better driver support generally, and so it may not be such a big pain–but as I understand it, there are no guarantees for your machine–there is the potential for trouble, which could by itself keep people from upgrading. Some people may be holding back as part of the Vista backlash, unwilling to trust Seven as much as they should. But others may simply be aware that when they upgrade, they might have to spend hours tracking down drivers and dealing with other issues associated with the new OS. At some point, it becomes a matter of not being worth the hassle.

When you get a Windows device, the OS is not built specifically for your machine, and the companies that made the parts for your computer don’t always do a very good job of providing the latest drivers to support everything. To me, this explain a lot when I see the adoption numbers for Windows.

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