June 9, 2006
FCC Regulations For Internet Surveillance Upheld
The FCC issued regulations under the Communication and Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) requiring broadband providers to incorporate centralized surveillance hubs in their systems for use by the police. The regulations were challenged by a variety of groups. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the rules today.
June 8, 2006
Windows Vista Beta Available for Public Download
Microsoft has expanded the Vista beta program to the known universe. Here's the story on CNET with links to the download page. Microsoft cautions that the download is not meant for production machines. Here's a chance to check it out before we're stuck with the reality of actually using it.
Google Soul Searches on China, Chinese Government Gets Testy
Google's co-founder Sergey Brin was quoted recently that his company compromised its principles in filtering search results for Chinese customers. Google's U.S. site is off-limits to Chinese citizens and the Google.cn site has taken hits from various human rights groups for the censorship.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry now reiterates that censorship or certain sensitive material is the law, and the law is to be followed. There is implications in this statement for Yahoo! and Microsoft, both of whom have also taken hits for cooperating with the Chinese government. Yahoo! in particular took a lot of heat for allegedly providing evidence that identified dissidents who ultimately went to prison. Congress even got into the act, holding hearings where executives from all three companies were excoriated for cooperating with the Chinese government to the detriment of spreading democracy. Since then, it's business as usual.
China has 110 million Internet users. That's a pretty big market to serve ads and other services. The ironic thing about all of this is that the Chinese government demands cooperation when investigating offenses under their laws. Here the U.S. government wants ISPs to record all traces of Internet activity for two years running and allegedly got cooperation from AT&T to actually record all traffic on a covert basis. Who has the more onerous approach to the Internet?
The story on the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement is on the San Francisco Chronicle web site.
June 7, 2006
Early Reviews of Google Spreadsheet are Mixed
Well, the early reviews are in on Google's online spreadsheet application. And the heart of the matter is that whether Google Spreadsheet is any good depends on expectations. That is, the impression of the product seems to have more to do with how it's placed competitively with Excel than what it actually does. Some segments of the press display an anti-Microsoft bias by expressing disappointment that Google Spreadsheet isn't going to destroy Microsoft Office. The lack of features of a comparable disk-based system puts off some commentators. The fact is, though, the product is what it is.
Google undoubtedly will keep working on the application and add features over time. The company seems less concerned about competing directly with Microsoft than the people who write about it. Google is not likely to go after for the corporate crowd, at least not yet. The small business crowd, the sole proprietorship and the individual who needs access to a spreadsheet occasionally are likely targets.
The online application saves in an xls and csv format, so it could work with Excel when the web is available and Excel isn't. The practical side of whether an online version of a spreadsheet has as much to do with how convenient it is to use as to what is in the primary feature set. Maybe a saved online version could be that backup on the web if something funky happens to the local version. That's not so bad when out of town for a presentation depending on the paranoia level. And if you're paranoid that your private sensitive data resides on a Google server, we'll that's a factor as well.
Maybe Google Spreadsheet won't kill Office under these circumstances, but it could and likely will drive net traffic to Google. That's where their business is. And if it chips away from potential sales of Office, then Microsoft should have to respond competitively. Nothing wrong with that. Allegedly, the consumer wins under those circumstances.
In checking out the reviews, here are two excerpts that caught my eye.
Heck, word processors and spreadsheets are complex applications. They're hard enough to build for the desktop let alone the online space. Just ask Microsoft or, if you don't believe them, ask the Open Office crowd. Office productivity applications like Word and Excel and their open source competitors are the product of years of iterative development. And still we grumble about how imperfect they are.
No doubt, over time Google Spreadsheets and the company's evolving Web Office will turn out to be a decent product–there isn't much rocket science left in building a spreadsheets, email or word processors.
Rely on commentary for what it's worth. Try it out when it goes full public. If it works for you, great. And if not, buy Office. Microsoft won't mind. Playfuls has a nice description of the features so far available in Google Spreadsheet.
June 6, 2006
Government Sued Over Vet Data Theft
Speaking of screw-ups, the Department of Veteran Affairs is on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit over the theft of laptop containing sensitive data on 26.5 million veterans. The employee who took the data home has been separated from the Department as a consequence. No word on whether he'll get a job at Best Buy in the interim. He may be eminently qualified if the details in the last post proves true.
CNET has this story.
Best Buy in Hard Drive Flap
There's a disturbing story on MSNBC about a man who had a hard drive replaced by Best Buy under warranty and discovered that the original, unwiped, drive was bought by a stranger at a flea market in Chicago. The machine belonged to Hank Gerbus of Cincinnati, Ohio. The drive crashed and Best Buy replaced it but wouldn't return the original drive. The store promised to destroy the original drive, specifically by drilling holes in the platter.
That would have been nice if they had followed through, but they didn't. Instead, the Gerbus hard drive found its way into the hands of a man named Ed. Ed called Gerbus and told him he had the hard drive which apparently contained sensitive data such as social security numbers for Hank, his wife, his children and grandchildren. Ed was nice enough to call Hank about this. There's no telling, though, who had their hands on the drive in between the Best Buy "repair" and Ed's purchase.
Best Buy says that if the allegations are true, that the situation would be intolerable. Well, duh. They're investigating but not saying much more, probably because the ultimate conclusion of this unhappy event will involve lawyers and a judge. On the other side, the question arises as to whether anyone really needs to keep sensitive demographic information on a hard drive in the first place. Oh sure, computer applications are irresistibly convenient for this kind of data. But can you trust a chain consumer electronics store when things go bad? The incident, on its face, is isolated. We'd never know unless Ed placed that phone call. Let's see what Best Buy concludes when it finishes its investigation.
June 5, 2006
Google Spreadsheet Comes Out on Tuesday
Google will release a spreadsheet program that is Excel compatible in file format. The features include allowing multiple people to work on the same document and letting them conduct a chat at the same time. Google, as always, is low key about the beta, claiming they are not competing with Microsoft. Microsoft is likely wary and maybe a little annoyed about the whole thing. This forces the company to come up with some counter measure as part of the Live Office services.
Assuming there's substance to the feature set and a real capability to work over the web, it should be a great web app for those people who don't have Office preloaded on their machines and don't have access to a spreadsheet program otherwise. Given Microsoft's market share, that's probably everyone without Excel. The beta will be available to a limited number of testers. Nothing like driving demand by making supply exclusive. Just like Google and not at all like Microsoft.