September 21, 2006
Symantec, Adobe Give EC an Earful Over Vista Bundling
Symantec is complaining to the European Commission over security features in Vista that apparently lock out third parties in favor of Microsoft's built in security. The complaints revolve around Microsoft bundling its own security software into the OS and using its security structure to lock out competitors. The company has asked the EU for guidance but the Commission has said that Microsoft as a monopolist should know what its obligations are.
Commentators liken this to the uncoupling of Media Player from Windows XP. That was a flop as a competitive measure by the Commission. No one bought the MP-less version of XP in Europe. Comparing the security situation to the Media Player fiasco isn't quite apt here. Basic media players are free from every company that offers one. So, for audio, it comes down to using whatever plays the file. Security is different as people pay for the these products. Free virus and spyware software are available, but don't offer as complete protection as the money products. That's where the market is, and that's where Microsoft seems to be problematic with the EU.
Adobe's beef with Microsoft involves the XPS printing system and the PDF creation features that Microsoft intended in putting into Vista and Office 2007. "Save as PDF" was to be an included option in Office. Microsoft took the feature out but made it available as a free downloadable add-on. XPS, on the other hand does the same thing as PDF, but it's a native Vista and Office file format. Adobe claims these features would kill its business. The PDF standard is a de facto document presentation standard for quite some time. Adobe has had that market more or less locked up. So the question is will XPS destroy the market for Adobe as Internet Explorer did for Netscape? It's hard to say. It's not as if Adobe couldn't stand some competition, but there is that problem of Microsoft leveraging the operating system.
This is getting close to release time. Microsoft has indicated it could delay releasing Vista in Europe if it can't resolve the issues with the Commission in advance. There is still more time for developments, however, as this game of chicken plays itself out.
In another note on Vista, Microsoft plans to include every version of Vista on a single DVD, differentiating between installs through the product key. This simplifies manufacturing and distribution and makes it easier for the company to lure customers into buying sequential upgrades to the various versions of Vista. The same feature should provide hackers with something to do once Vista gets to consumers.
See the story in PC World on this.
September 20, 2006
New Browser Anonymises Web Surfing
While we're on the subject of privacy, the BBC is reporting on the debut of a free anonymising browser small enough to fit on a USB drive. This gives people the ability to surf anonymously from any machine with a USB port and a desktop that hasn't been locked down.
Torpark is the browser that uses the Tor network of browsers created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The browser encrypts traffic between the computer and the Tor network, and then regularly changes the IP address of surfers as it travels over the network.
The BBC article is here. Go here for the download if anonymous surfing is your bent. It's in self-extracting exe or in rar format at about 10 mb, depending on the download mirror. As the president might say, don't go doing any illegalling now, hear?
AG Calls for New Data Retention Laws
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is asking Congress to pass a law that will require Internet providers to retain customer records of their Internet usage for two years to better help the government investigate cases of child pornography and terrorism. News reports indicate that Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller met with he major Internet providers to press them on the subject. Other reports have indicated that some providers have increased their data preservation times to help head off legislation. That won't stop the Attorney General, however, as he appeared before the Senate Banking Committee over the need for such a law.
Internet providers and some businesses have had unease over these proposals based on their promises of customer privacy and a general feeling that privacy is one of the civil liberties that people take seriously. Preserving data may affect the way people use the Internet in terms of shopping and other transactions if users feared the information was turned over to the government.
Most of the talk from the government says the information that should be preserved would be matching IP addresses to web site visits, email, and messaging. The content would not need to be preserved as much as the paths these communications take and their final destination. The government would obtain the data via subpoena. This, of course, is the same government that decided on its own that the subpoena process was too slow and cumbersome in terrorism cases so it simply ignored the requirement in the FISA law. One could legitimately ask that with that kind of a track record, why would this government respect the subpoena requirement in this situation?
The major phone companies provident Internet access have not been models of civil libertarians by some measures. AT&T, Verizon, and others are being sued by providing customer records to the government without a subpoena. In fact, AT&T recently changed its customer agreement to make the data property of the company to avoid such suits in the future. In the meantime, the government has tried to get the suit against AT&T dismissed on the grounds that it would reveal state secrets. That alone is somewhat of an admission that something funny is going on. Bob Dylan said it best when he sang "Because something is happening here, but you don't know what it is
do you, Mister Jones?"
Another problem lurking in the background of all this is the other possible uses of the mountains of data that will sit out there. Divorces, cheating spouses, viewing and or purchases of legal but tasteless products (use your imagination), could be subject to subpoena in private litigation. And then there is the matter of out of state purchases on the Internet. How many people actually report those purchases to pay sales tax on their state returns? Now state governments could have a way to put teeth in compliance with that line of the tax return. Sure, the current proposals don't require preserving that kind of information for purposes of the war on terrorism. It would be easier for the government to extend laws passed than to go for the whole thing at once. If Congress goes along with this, it should put strict limits on the government's ability to bypass the courts in validating requests for data. Given the current composition of Congress, however, I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.
September 19, 2006
Toshiba Latest Company to Recall Sony Manufactured Batteries
What's this? Another battery recall involving Sony manufactured equipment? This time it's Toshiba recalling batteries for the Dynabook and Satellite models made from March through May. This time the glitch isn't potential explosions. Rather the batteries stop working and won't charge.
There's a joke in this somewhere, and Sony is the punchline. The Chicago Tribune has the story here.
September 18, 2006
Virgin Atlantic Bans Apple, Dell Laptop Batteries from Flights
Virgin Atlantic has banned Apple and Dell laptop batteries on its international flights. The company joins Qantas and Korean Air who have similar bans in place. Passengers will have to remove batteries, wrap them, and place them in carry-on baggage. There is a limit of two batteries per passenger. Virgin Atlantic is reacting to publicized fire hazards in batteries manufactured by Sony for Apple and Dell. Sony is picking up most of the cost of the recall of the affected batteries.
According to the report at the BBC, power is available in the Upper Class sections and at some seats in the Premium Economy. Laptop use is banned at seats without power. The airline is laudable in want to prevent its planes from crashing and burning over the Atlantic due to defective batteries. The reports do not indicate, however, if there are alternatives for unaffected Dell and Apple laptops, or that equipment where the battery problem has been ameliorated. So, laptop owners flying Virgin Atlantic, make your reservations carefully, remember to bring the power cord, and you just may be able to update that spreadsheet by the time you reach the Azores. Or something like that.