October 19, 2006
IE7 is Available for Download
The final version, that is, at least until the gajillion (thanks KND) of patches become necessary to shore it up. That's not to imply that Microsoft did a bad job on 7. Far from it. The new browser features tabbed browsing, RSS feed support, a better print engine, generally stuff that already appears in Opera, Firefox, and that Netscape browser. It's just that the history of the browser and the OS shows that the product is complex and coders can't think of everything all at once. Even the competition needs patches from time to time.
Microsoft won't be pushing the update through Windows Update, at least not until next month. Even then it will be an option for users rather than the critical patch route. The download is available here. The timing is interesting as Yahoo yesterday released a highly customized version of IE7 as an update to the Yahoo browser they inflict on their customers, essentially releasing a Microsoft product before Microsoft did. Maybe somebody didn't get their timing right.
This release of IE7 is only available for Windows XP SP2 or Windows 2003 SP1 in 32 and 64 bit versions.
Apple Ships Something Extra with Some Video iPods
That something extra is a virus that affects Windows computers, apparently caught from a Windows computer on the production line at one of its iPod manufacturers. The virus in question is the RavMonE.exe virus which popular anti-virus software should be able to remove. The RavMonE can affect Windows computers when an infected iPod connects to it. Macs are not affected. Less than 1% of iPods sold after September 12th have the virus.
Apple issued a snarky little statement on the incident. "As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it." You've got that right, especially the second part. Microsoft didn't manufacture the virus, but apparently it takes Windows computers to manufacture an iPod. What, no one's issued industrial line programs for the Mac? Or is it possible that developers aren't interested in writing for a platform that has a 4 point something per cent of the computer market. Apple should work on its quality control instead of taking pot shots at Windows, at least in this context.
More details are in USA Today.
October 18, 2006
Secretary Chertoff Says Web Could Aid Terrorism
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was quoted recently at a meeting of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police on the Internet's ability to radicalize home grown terrorists. His concern is not misplaced. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, has been tracking hate groups for years. One can easily take names from the voluminous list and track them via search engine for web site access. As with many web sites, these aren't hiding from public view. An even easier way to find hate groups on the web is the Hate Directory compiled by Raymond A. Franklin. The PDF supplied on that site has clickable links. The latest version of the document is some 146 pages long. That's a lot of hate out there.
What is more troubling than the existence of these sites is the implications of a government response to the potential terror they can generate through radicalization. These sites are allowed to exist if no other reason because of the First Amendment. Hate, apparently, is constitutional. Another element of this problem is that these sites exist on the Internet, which is not like other media. There are nominal controls on the technical aspects of the Internet but practically no controls on the content, at least in the U.S.
News Corp can buy MySpace and Google can buy YouTube, though that doesn't stop anyone with enough capital from creating the next social site. This is in contrast, say, to hate as represented by the media as entertainment. Hate groups set up shop to do damage and then Jack Bauer comes to the rescue. Everything is in its context. Hate groups are bad (and they are) and those possessing the indicia of good come in and set things right. We also get to sell some tennis shoes, light trucks, and a few computer games in the process. That's television. Messages are no so easily controlled or editorialized on the Internet.
The best the government is going to be able to do in these circumstances is monitor. The first justification put forth for monitoring has been to protect children from online predators. A worthy goal, definitely, but is it enough of a justification to track the vast majority of Internet users who neither abuse, molest, or do any other damage to children? Now comes terrorism into the mix. Again, the vast majority of people who use the web are not terrorists. Will they want to expose allegedly private Internet use to the government just to be less afraid? Watch for legislation to be introduced in the next congress that acts on the proposals from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for ISPs to keep detailed use logs on their users, all to aid law enforcement investigations. It's a shame that the government doesn't come up with proposals that do enough to fight child abuse and terrorism without punishing the rest of the Internet community. Perhaps the next administration can do better in this regard.
October 17, 2006
Sony Recalls Vaio Batteries
Well, it had to happen. Sony is finally recalling some batteries for its own Vaio laptops, some 90,000 from units sold in Japan and China. This adds to the list of Dell, Apple, Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Hitachi as manufacturers who are affected by poor Sony manufacturing. The company is considering a lower fiscal year forecast but hasn't yet decided if it will take that route.
The story is in the Washington Post.
Microsoft Coooperation With Security Rivals Not All It Seems?
Microsoft's recent announcement that it was cooperating with security rivals may be a bit premature. Symantec and others are saying that Microsoft is sharing the security APIs but not giving them access to the Vista OS kernel. They claim that the ability to path the kernel is necessary for advanced protection to work, that the security APIs will only work up to a point for that type of protection.
This only affects the 64 bit version of the OS, though once the cost of 64 bit processors drop they and 64 bit Windows will be quite common. The fear is hackers could break through Microsoft's PatchGuard system while not giving rival security companies access to do something about it. Microsoft says that its own security programs uses the same APIs and also do not have access to the kernel. In fact, Microsoft says, if the kernel was compromised the operating system would shut down as in Blue Screen of Death shut down. The unanswered question is "and then what?" That should go over really big when a virus hits a major corporation running Windows Vista.
There are more details in BetaNews.
October 16, 2006
Judge Gives Bully Game the Go Ahead
There is a convergence of computer game news and the law lately. The most prominent is that of the pre-release court challenge to the game Bully by Florida attorney Jack Thompson. The game is from Rockstar Games, the same people who brought us the Grand Theft Auto series of games. There is no need to repeat how those games displayed some of the worst social and sexual values, or how wildly popular they were, for displaying some of the worst social and sexual values.
Thompson called this new game a "Columbine simulator" without having seen the game. The constant bullying to the Columbine school shooting perpetrators has been identified as one of the causes that sent them over the edge. Thompson was so upset that he sued in Florida state court over the game. He even got a judge to force the developers to give him a pre-release copy and an employee to play the game as a demonstration. Foul, cried Mr. Thompson. The employee could play safe parts only, ignoring the violence.
As it turns out, there are no guns in the game, with the most powerful weapon being a slingshot and a baseball bat. Other rules of the game enforce positive social values such as going to school and obeying curfew by offering up negative consequences to the player for ignoring them. The judge in the case basically said, after viewing the game, that there was more violence on television than in this game. Case dismissed.
So who are the winners and losers here? Jack Thompson, is the nominal loser. A favorable ruling in this case may have helped him in two other cases where he represents those aggrieved by the claimed effects of video games. He represents several plaintiffs who are suing Rockstar. Damages in one case are for $600 million over the deaths of three individuals who were killed by a 14 year old boy who allegedly played the more violent Grand Theft Auto game. Another suit, also for $600 million has been filed over the deaths of two rural Alabama police officers and a dispatcher.
Thompson could have easily argued the nexus between violence and Rockstar Games if he could have gotten a Florida judge to agree that the brutal violence-weak Bully should be suppressed. As the judge wisely remembered his law on prior restraints and the First Amendment, Thompson will now have to prove that causel connection between playing the games and the murders to show liability. No plaintiff in similar suits involving movies, games, television, and music, coincidentally, has yet been able to do that.
The winner, Rockstar, who gets a lot of free publicity over the game, $39.99, out Tuesday for the PS2, available at finer retailers. The general game playing public is a winner as well. If someone was actually hoping they would be buying a Columbine simulator as Jack Thompson suggests, they will be sorely disappointed based on news reports. They now know enough to avoid Bully. In fact, if those people want guns, blood, and violence, they should take the judge's advice and stick with prime time viewing. Nancy Grace could probably offer a few pointers.