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Archive for January, 2006

Reviewing Pointless Programs

AlexRank
SearchStatus – one among many Firefox search toolbars

PLUG-INS have become very popular among Open Source projects. They enable an application to be extended endlessly by its community without getting bloated at the very core. At present, you can come across a large variety of plug-ins for the Mozilla family and many of these plug-ins tend to be more playful than practical. They serve no pragmatic purpose or even a purpose other than amusement. Most of them offer nothing beyond an enjoyable 1-minute time-burning. Examples from Mozilla Firefox:

  • Extension to display your IP address
  • Extension to diplay the Google icon in the status bar whenever you visit Google
  • National security threat level in your panel

All of these plug-ins simply do what they claims to be doing. No more, no less. These are ‘proof of concept’ examples; very basic examples, almost as fundamental as the infamous “hello world”, but ones which exploit the Firefox API‘s for independent developers. These often get unjustifiable low ranks, which criticise their presence rather than quality. This bugs me at times.

Plug-ins are indeed sometimes pointless, but they should do what they say on the tin. Why do people install such plug-ins and then whine about them? If you don’t need a plug-in, don’t get it installed in the first place, I say. I continue to see review of what is admittedly incomplete or lacking. Better not review or not download literature and code if the description does not sound pleasing. Review is unfortunately used as means of punishment for time-consuming activities or dissapointments, which were all along called for (and voluntary). Rank, popularity and value must be separated altogether.

The Road from Windows to Linux

If you are switching from Windows to Linux, be warned. An independent, small-scale study concludes that migrating from Linux (back) to Windows is hard. As Windows lacks the power and user-friendliness that Linux offers, frustration should be anticipated.

PenguinsA similar and older article uses sarcasm and outlines reasons not to use Linux. In practice, both articles which are cynical serve as primers to the advantages of using Linux.

If you choose to upgrade to Linux, be aware that rather than reading surveys, you can use a questionnaire-type utility to determine which Linux distribution suits you best.

Also see: 25 Reasons to Convert to Linux

Portable Applications

Shrimp USB drive
One of the most unusual drives

IT is worth bringing to people’s attention a new concept in computing: portable applications. Applications reside on a USB drive and can be run and used anywhere, any time on any modern computer which is capable of a USB boot. Data files can be stored on the device, unlike for example, most Live CD’s. The portable application Web site offers a large variety of programs. Below is the list of portable applications with equivalents on Sourceforge, some of which are under development:

  • For browsing: Firefox
  • For communication: Gaim
  • For Web development/design: NVU
  • As an office productivity tool: OpenOffice.org and AbiWord
  • For diary/scheduling/PIM: Sunbird
  • As a mail client: Thunderbird

It is not only applications that get mounted onto USB devices nowadays. Entire operating systems, notably Linux distributions, have become portable as well. I once mentioned this as an expectation for he near future in Computers as Relics and Computer Become Host. That’s where I expressed similar ideas that envisioned a USB-based or portable hard-drive-based operating systems. The concepts, which are very reminiscent of a Live CD, were brought to my attention via a reader’s comment.

Akismet Problems

Dog scooping
Akismet cleans up your blog spam,
but false positives sometimes go unnoticed

Akismet is a comment spam prevention mechanism. It can tell apart genuine comments from ‘comment bombing’ and used do so almost flawlessly. The Akismet filter has quickly gained popularity among its origins: WordPress blogs. I set up Akismet in my WordPress 2.0 test blog and mentioned this before in a writeup on ending comment spam using collaborative spam flagging.

Akismet can be used only given a key which establishes some trusted identity. Nevetheless, its performance is said to have degraded recently. I have been wondering for quite a while what would prevent a guild of spammers from downloading and installing WordPress 2, getting an API key and then posting comments to self. They could begin marking comments improperly en masse. Only a trusted few need be able to flag messages. It is is a necessity when one wishes for robustness to fraud to ever prevail. I even mentioned this before, roughly a month before the tool was publicly available.

I have an API key for one blog and another test blog that ran Akismet without a key. That was back in the early days when spam-stopper, as is was named at the time, was actively developed and tested by a set of individuals. Ever since, I believe it has reached many hands and became too easy to gain access to, for malicious purposes as well.

There is hope of successfully reverting the learner back to a more reliable state if backups were made of it on occasions.

Google Take Interoperability More Seriously

Google Earth
Google Earth on Windows; screenshot taken
when it was first released; click to enlarge the image

AFTER several months of waiting, the Windows version of Google Earth has been ported to run on Macs too.

If I recall correctly, they did the same with Google Talk recently. Will a Linux version be next? That would the real test. So far they have primarily, if not exclusively, catered for commercial, closed-source platforms. Perhaps Google Pack was a key milestone, due to which they could not afford to lose time on ports.

Rants about interoperability have been voiced before although Google’s media player was cross-platform from day one. Google’s clear intent is to remain Open; in fact, all of their Web-based tool are rarely ‘platform-discriminatory’.

Patent May Prevent Outside Access to Windows

Bill Gates
Bill Gates arrested in his younger days (photo in public domain)

This one particular story comes from CNET and it speaks of a patent which has just been upheld. This patent has apparently suffered from some court battles and rejections in the past as it is very controversial. Judge for yourself:

[...]

The FAT file system, a common means of storing files, was originally developed for Windows but is also employed on removable flash memory cards used in digital cameras and other devices. Some Linux- and Unix-related products also use the system to exchange data with Windows.

[...]

To many this means that files will be ‘locked’ not only by proprietary formats, but also by the underlying filesystem. The filesystem in itself becomes proprietary and very restrictive. I wonder not only how this affects Linux, but merely any device that attempts to communicate with the closed-source ogre. The European Commision is less than pleased about aggressive attempts to lock out the competition.

The European Commission has threatened to fine Microsoft up to 2m euros (£1.36m; $2.4m) a day until it gives rivals more access to its systems.

The Baseless Security Promise

Bill Gates
Business as usual…

Slashdot has revealed to me this mild critique:

Four years ago, Bill Gates dispatched a companywide e-mail promising that security and privacy would be Microsoft’s top priorities. Gates urged that new design approaches must “dramatically reduce” the number of security-related issues as well as make fixes easier to administer. “Eventually,” he added, “our software should be so fundamentally secure that customers never even worry about it.”

The grim reality:

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