Monthly Archives: July 2006

Microsoft’s Disingenuous Advantage

Windows genuine disadvantage (The Register)

Over the weekend I spent several happy hours helping a friend build a new computer. For once, everything worked first time; this is, in itself, cause for celebration.

The most time-consuming part of the entire operation was the series of install-and-reboot cycles that are necessary to install a plethora of Windows XP security updates.

In the past, Microsoft have repeatedly and voiciferously exhorted us to set “Automatic Updates” to download and install updates automatically, for the very sensible reason that most non-technical users do not keep their pachines patched.

However, I prefer to stay in control of what gets installed on my machine, so I have always stopped short of giving Microsoft that level of discretion. As with every machine that I touch, I configured Automatic Updates on this machine to download and notify. I could not tell you why, just a vague paranoia that MS or someone else would one day use the Automatic Updates for some nefarious means.

That day has finally arrived. There in the list of “Critical Security Updates”, was Windows Genuine Advantage.

WGA is Microsoft’s way of making sure that your copy of XP is “legit” (this was), and remains “legit” in the future. WGA has been around for nearly two years (since September 2004), but until recently it was strictly optional.

No longer. Once the Automatic updates were installed (with the exception of WGA, which I had specifically de-selected), I decided to check out the Windows Update website and see if there was anything that we had missed. The first thing that I was told when I got there was that we needed to install a new version of Windows Update. This has happened before, so…

Install >click<

Installing Windows Genuine Advantage.

Noooooooo! >Cancel< >Cancel< >Cancel< >Cancel<

Thankfully I was able to stop the installation in time, but I was incensed that Microsoft was resorting to this kind of trickery in order to install a piece of software that I had specifically prohibited.

Since when is WGA “a new version of Windows update?

I have a big problem WGA being installed as a Critical Security Update; three, in fact.

  1. It is not critical to the running of Windows.
  2. It is nothing to do with security.
  3. It is not an update to the OS; it is an extra feature.

So there you have it; three lies for the price of one.

The idea of WGA is not a bad one, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. By all means, allow users to check if their license is legit, and by all means provide them with incentives to do so. But foisting a mandatory and continuous check – however well-meaning – on your users after the fact is just plain wrong. No matter what the EULA says, we did not sign up for this!.

As Steve Gibson would say, “It’s my computer!

As we have already seen, Microsoft will resort to trickery and deception to install a piece of software that provides absolutely no benefit to the user and cannot be removed (at least not not easily) once installed.

There has been some talk of WGA actually being spyware, and there are lawsuits pending. The lawsuits will probably fail; Microsoft’s defence is that since they have permission to install WGA then it cannot, by definition, be spyware.

Technically this is true, but Microsoft is again being disingenuous. The permission that they speak of is in the End User License Agreement (EULA) that you have to agree to in order to install Windows in the first place. This EULA basically gives MS the keys to your machine; they can do what they want, when they want, and they are not responsible or liable for damages. It would be interesting to see if the EULA – which most people don’t read and could not understand if they did – would stand up to serious scrutiny in a courtroom. I suspect that it would not, but in the meantime…

Don’t like the EULA? Don’t install Windows.

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You can run but you can’t hide.

Feds Retrieve Google Records after Gmail Used for Hate Speech

A hard lesson for those who think that an “anonymous” e-mail address allows them to make death threats with impunity. One character who allegedly did this got a knock on the door from the men in black.

Bravo.

The FBI did some checking with Google, which led them to Yahoo, which led them to a specific machine and the person who was apparently using it to make death threats. I am all for privacy and anonymity, but that does NOT free us from responsibility for our actions. The Feds did this by the book, with court-sanctioned warrants and specific requests for specific information.

There’s a big difference between a by-the-book investigation and a warrantless information-gathering “fishing expedition” that is only legal “because we said so”.  There are situations where a anonymity on the Internet is a good thing; this isn’t one of them.

Moral: If you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t say it on the Internet.

 

 

95 Theses of Geek Activism

Many years ago, a chap named Martin Luther (not to be confused with Martin Luther King, Jr.) posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenburg Cathedral… and at a stroke, started the reformation and birthed the Protestant Church.

More recently, another fellow has posted his 95 Theses of Geek Activism on the door of the Internet. Some are humanitarian, some are political. Some I agree with, some I don’t. Technically there’s not really 95 of them, due to repetition. And they are not all “Theses”. But the idea is a good one, and deserves respect. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Trusted computers must not be trusted.
  • Fair use is a good thing.
  • Data mining will not stop terror.
  • Except for extreme cases, the government should not be in the business of parenting our children.
  • Security is a trade-off- what are you willing to give up?
  • DRM only keeps an honest user honest.

Recommended reading for Geeks… and those who are trying to understand them.

Sony: Twenty-five years of trying to change the world… and failing.

In a recent Blog Article, Bill Harris examines why Sony’s attempts at creating new standards and formats has been so mindbugglingly unsuccessful. He says it better than I can, so check out his scribblings.

In a nutshell, Sony fails because their formats are:

  1. Proprietary
  2. Expensive

There. I think that about covers it.

A different kind of company, a different kind of car

Battery-Fueled Car Will Smoke You

Saturn should give up that slogan, since GM took possession, they no longer deserve it…

Martin Eberhard was flush with cash and decided to buy himself a new sports car. He wanted something that was fast but still got good mileage. He quickly learned that high performance and fuel efficiency are mutually exclusive, at least when it comes to internal combustion engines. So he started researching alternative technologies and soon realized it was actually possible for an electric car to combine zip and efficiency. The problem: Nobody was making one.

So he did. Introducing the Tesla Roadster. Powered by 6,831 rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, it has a range of 250 miles and a top speed of more than 130 mph.

Oh, and it costs roughly $80,000.

This sounds expensive, but it isn’t; here’s why:

  • It does 0-60 in four seconds. In first gear. No car with that kind of acceleration is that cheap.
  • In the two or three years that it takes to bring this idea to market, battery technology will improve the car’s performance and range still more, and the price will fall.
  • Any new technology is always astronomically expensive. How much was your first VCR/CD player/Cellphone?

It is amazing but not surprising to me that a small-time enterpreneur has succeeded where the likes of GM and Ford have failed – the auto industry has a vested interest in keeping us sucking down oil, which may be one of the reasons that electric cars never really took off. This is an idea whose time has come.

It goes without saying that I want one.

Some good advice

Some tips for saving money

I also recommend the book “The Millionaire Next Door

A long-overdue adjustment

Hollywood stars meet the real world. It’s pay cuts all round

Q: What do movie stars, CEOs and Professional Ballplayers have in common?

A: They all get paid obscene amounts of money for doing Sod All.

According to this story, the Movie studios have just come to a shocking realization that you don’t need big-name expensive actors to make profitable movies. Some of the biggest blockbusters (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia) are not centered on big-name stars. On the other hand, some movie projects have been cancelled due to cost overruns… but thanks to craftily-written contracts, the actors still get paid.

Most disturbing quote: “Brad Pitt is another one who has taken a big cut in pay, from his customary fee of up to $30m down to just £750,000 for his latest, “The Assassination of Jesse James“.

Makes you wonder how much these actors are really worth, doesn’t it?

Favorite quote: “Hollywood has always thrown ungodly sums of cash at top-tier actors… It was a strategy that worked well enough until it didn’t“.

One down, two to go.

It finally happened – the RIAA gets a spanking in court

RIAA loses in file sharing case

For years, the RIAA has been taking people to court for illegal file-sharing.

The RIAA’s normal procedure in dealing with these cases is as follows: identify potential file sharers, threaten to take them to court, extract a settlement in the range of US$3,000-8,000, and drop the case once defendants sign a pledge never to do it again. So far almost 4,000 people have opted for this path.

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. Bribing Lobbying Congress to pass laws that turn misdenors into Felonies.
  2. Getting the Department of Justice to do all the dirty work and heavy lifting for them.
  3. Money “earned” in court cases is not passed along to the artists whose interests the RIAA claims to “protect”.
  4. Information gathering is sometimes done by nefarious means (i.e., “hacking”), which would be highly illegal if their customers did it to them.
  5. Suing parents for the “crimes” of their children.
  6. The assumption that the “owner” of an IP address is at fault.
  7. Even when they admit that you are innocent, they still sue – an attitude that is perilously close to racketeering.
  8. Suing your future customers is bad for business.

Some of their lawsuits have blown up in their faces. They have… sued people who do not own a computer, people who don’t know how to use a computer and even have dead people. When caught with their pants down their Modus Operandi is to quietly drop the lawsuit and fade into the shadows, but this time they went to court, and not only lost the case, but were instructed to pay the attorney’s fees of the “victim”.

Make no mistake, the RIAA has pursued this course of action thus far because it was profitable. now that there is precedent for it to be a losing proposition for them, you can be sure that they will change their tactics.

It’s official – “google” is a verb!

Google Goes From Web to Webster’s – Los Angeles Times

The Dark Side of Mergers

Cingular accused of deceiving customers

It seems to me that whenever an industry is reduced to a handful of players – Employer-provided Healthcare, CableTV, Local phone service and Petrol are good examples – that competition goes out of the window, prices go through the roof, and quality heads for the floor.

Cingular and AT&T use different cellphone technology. When Cingular acquired AT&T’s cellphone business, this put them in something of a quandary – they were forced to maintain technology that they did not really like. The honest thing to do here would be to admin that they were phasing out AT&T’s TDMA technology and allow them the option to switch out of their contracts without charge. Instead they chose to treat their new customers as captives.

Shame.