March 2006 Archives

AOL service aims to 'untether' desktop PCs | CNET News.com

America Online on Tuesday launched a new service designed for Windows users with a hankering to access, say, their entire home computer from work--or vice versa--without lugging any cargo.

Through a password-protected, 128-bit encrypted virtual desktop, customers can gain full access to all their applications and documents; view, edit and share files; and print those files to a local printer without having to install extra drivers.

As the article points out, this isn't the first "Citrix for the Masses" product out there, but the fact that AOL is pushing it is fairly significant. For all the talk of AOL's imminent death, they still have a broad reach. And if AOL's offering this kind of service, the other ISPs will probably follow suit (the same way they all offer some kind of lame media store, anti-virus, etc).

The idea of having access to your home system and files while on the road is enticing. Especially if you can route entertainment through your home system (TV shows, movies, music, photos), which is why this market may not fully develop until Apple makes their play here. If Apple can crack the code to allow seamless interaction with your Mac at home while you're on the road with your company-issued Windows computer-shaped object, that could unleash an awful lot of Mac buying.

Under Pressure, Dubai Company Drops Port Deal - New York Times

The state-owned Dubai company seeking to manage some terminal operations at six American ports dropped out of the deal on Thursday, bowing to an unrelenting bipartisan attack in Congress that swept aside President Bush's efforts.

Just so we're clear, Congress has scuttled a deal that has minimal real implications for national security, while it simultaneously renewed the civil liberty-shredding PATRIOT Act, and rolled over on secret domestic eavesdropping by the NSA.

Remember in November: these guys aren't protecting you.

Picking Up the Lyric but Missing the Beat

The pimp complaint comes from another place, from someone deluded not by his success, but by his antisocial status. But all of these gripes elicit a sense of bemused outrage because they are complaints from someone who has no right to complain.

This is what a modern humanities education will do to you. It's not pretty.

Boing Boing: House introduces mandatory radio-crippling law

This is a bill to steal from tomorrow's entrepreneurs, who'll never get to invent the next generation of awesome music tech, in order to line the pockets of yesterday's recording industry fatcats.

True. Even worse, the bill actually would steal from today's entrepreneurs, too, rolling back things we already take for granted in other media.

From the EFF's list of RIAA comments on this very topic in 2004:

Receivers may only record or permit recording of covered content: (a) in direct and immediate response to a consumer pressing a record button; (b) based on a date and time preprogrammed by the consumer.

One of two ways Big Content is saying that it doesn't want you to be able to record what you want. Think of the way you can use TiVo to record all showings of, say, "The Simpsons;" you won't be able to do the equivalent on digital radio if they get their fancy new Broadcast Flag.

Preprogrammed recordings shall be for a minimum period of 30 minutes in duration.

Big Content loves to sell you music by the minute. If you want a four-minute pop gem, you have to take 26 minutes of turds along in the deal. Sort of like buying an album on CD.

A replay buffer may be used to initiate a recording of a previously broadcast transmission provided that the buffer does not exceed 30 minutes in duration.

In Big Content's world, a time machine only goes back a half hour. Why not let the buffer size be determined by the manufacturer?

Each recording of covered content shall be stored and retrieved as a singe continuous session and may not be divided into recordings of individual songs on an automated or non-automated basis using ID information or audio characteristics.

Are you getting the sense that Big Content is scared to death of fans playing the songs they like?

The application of these usage rules to covered content shall be stored and associated in a robust manner with any recordings of such covered content.

The Flag is supposed to bind the recordings to the recording devices, so I don't even know what this thing is doing here.

ID information shall be recorded only in a manner that effectively limits its use to display during simultaneous audio playback.

Now we get to a few points where Big Content doesn't want you to be able to skip through stretches of your 30 minute recordings conveniently. Can't do it by watching the song titles go by.

No recording device shall record covered content based on ID information.

And did we mention, no recording what you want -- Big Content sells music like Verizon sells airtime now.

All recordings of covered content must employ robust encryption methods to bind and limit playback to the recording device.

Used to being able to move your media around with you? I wouldn't get to attached to that, if Big Content got their way.

Playback of covered content shall be solely on a session basis and shall not be linked in any way to ID information.

Omigod, omigod, omigod. Stop! We get it! No playing the individual songs and...

Playback of covered content shall be at normal speed (defined as within 10% of the speed at which the content was originally recorded). Playback may skip forward and backward at higher speeds within the recorded session without playing any sound provided that no skipping, either forward or backward, shall be permitted to the beginning or end of a song using ID information.

...no skipping or fast forwarding.

So Big Content's future has devices less capable than the average cassette deck of several decades ago, and they intend to ensure things stay that way. All new devices that have anything to do with digital TV or radio (and that would be all TV and radio within the next few years) will have to be approved by their bought-and-paid-for bureaucrats on the FCC.

It's like they looked at the iPod, saw what a success that was, and asked "OK, so can we build the opposite of that?"

Mac News: Hardware : Apple's New Mac Mini Built for Living Room

Adding video recording functionality would have made the Mac Mini too complicated, says Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president

"We're not trying to replace the TiVo," he says. "This is about taking the media from your computer and accessing it via the TV."

TiVo is safe from Apple for now.

Actually, TiVo's biggest problem isn't Apple (or Microsoft, for that matter), but the cable companies. Almost all of them offer DVR services that deliver most of what TiVo does (minus the spiffy UI and the recomendations) for a competitive monthly fee and no stiff up-front purchase price.

Given the lack of standards around tuning and decoding digital and HD over cable (ie, you need the cable box from your cable company in your signal chain anyway), there are too many dependencies for Apple to make their typical it's-so-simple-it-just-works play. The current generation of CableCard sure isn't the answer, either.

Expect more slow-play from Apple on this hand.

Napster's ghost rises - March 6, 2006

Steve Jobs helped save the music biz from file sharers like Shawn Fanning and Wayne Rosso. Now Fanning and Rosso--the creator of Napster and former president of Grokster, respectively--want to save the labels from Jobs. Apple's iTunes store practically created the music-downloads business, and according to NPD controls 70% of online sales. Says Rosso: "Steve Jobs has them by the balls."

Do you think Eric Nicoli or Edgar Bronfman Jr would be any more comfortable with Wayne Rosso's hands grabbing for their testicles?

The mere fact that labels like the subscription model should give customers pause. Subscription is far too benign a word for it. When I subscribe to a magazine, I get to keep what I bought even after I've let my subscription lapse. The deal the record companies are offering isn't like that: they want to keep your music tethered to your bank account or credit card. When the cash stops, so does the music. Unless, of course, you "buy" that music for a second time, affording you the privilege of a persistent file on whatever device they think you should be allowed to use.

In fairness, Apple's FairPlay DRM has some of the same potentially restrictive features. At any point, Apple could decide that the songs you buy from iTunes Music Store can only be synched to five iPods (right now, it's unlimited).

Anyway, label execs shouldn't be turning their heads and coughing for Dr Rosso any time soon. The one thing Napster can't do is get their rental model to work with the iPod player. Advantage, Apple.

� Vulnerability statistics for Mac and Windows | George Ou | ZDNet.com

No matter what some people may say, vulnerability ratings from Secunia are a valid measurement of security risk. If we can't count the number of actual security vulnerabilities (with severity and patch status in mind), what can we count?

No matter what Ou says, things aren't necessarily this black-and-white.

Secunia is a research organization, so the vulnerabilities it uncovers are quite possibly directly proportional to their knowledge of the systems they're examining. Do the numbers suggest that Mac OS X is less secure than Windows XP, or that Secunia has a more intimate knowledge of open, UNIX-like systems (since, after all, Mac OS X has FreeBSD at its core)?

Moreover the timeframes for these comparisons have an effect on the conclusion. Windows XP was released in 2001, and has had only two Service Packs since. In that time, Mac OS X has undergone five major updates, including two in Panther and Tiger which have brought substantial changes. My question is: would it be more appropriate to compare two pieces of software over similar time frames during the same stages of their respective release cycles? That would mean comparing vulnerability reports for the first 12 months of Windows XP SP2 against the first 12 months of Mac OS X 10.4, for example (and not just a snapshot of the last 12 months)?

Perhaps part of this is Mac (and UNIX-derivative bias). I happen to think that Mac OS X, by virtue of the FreeBSD underpinnings, is inherently more secure than Windows XP for a number of reasons (drivers not being installed in kernel mode, a generally reasonable privilege model, the lack of an all-powerful embedded scripting engine, etc). But my major motivation is the fact that quoting security advisory numbers is a dangerous abuse of math; a kind of "damned lie." Advisory services aren't canonical repositories of objective truths, they're businesses. They're limited by their perspective, bias, and resources in how much they can know.