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Saturday 6 May 2000, 23:50 BST
In the wake of the "Love Letter" virus Microsoft are once again coming under fire for producing email client software which is so vulnerable to this sort of attack. Naturally, they disagree: according to PC World, MS claim their software is the target for this sort of attack because it's so widespread. There's something to that, to be sure, since a virus that relied on the presence of, say, Perl, would have a much smaller chance to spread rapidly because a huge percentage of the PCs it sent emails to wouldn't have the ability to run the script.

However, there's more to the targeting of Windows-based systems than the popularity (or should I say, "ubiquity") of Windows 95/98, Outlook and Visual Basic. Microsoft made a really huge mistake when they failed to incorporate some form of file-level permissions in Windows 95 so that a user-level script couldn't damage system files or even access them in the first place unless it had appropriate permissions. Microsoft, being more interested in delivering a "good user experience" with automatic execution of "active content" than delivering a secure operating system, have left their "consumer" OS wide open to being exploited by anyone who can modify a simple VB Script. What all this really demonstrates is that a software monoculture is a seriously bad thing. [Via Techdirt]
While we're talking about hacking, it's worth mentioning that Apache.org (the official site of the leading Open Source web server) has just been hacked. The intruders gained root access by exploiting some simple Apache configuration errors, and marked their presence by putting up a page with a Microsoft logo! Happily the intruders resisted the temptation to do any harm, unlike the hackers who recently broke into the Electronic Frontier Foundation's web site, causing them to have to restore their site from backups. [Apache.org story via The Register, EFF story via NewsTrolls]
The pace of change as new releases of web browser appear has slowed to a crawl, and even the more innovative browsers (ie Mozilla and Opera) aren't really doing much to change the basic navigational and presentational paradigms that were laid down by Mosaic way back when. A lot of people think that there needs to be a revolution in the ways web-based content is presented by client software, and a recent article in Forbes discusses some of the unconventional approaches that are being explored. Jakob Nielsen reports that there are signs that specialised applications may finally be integrating web-based content in innovative ways than a simple browser can't manage. All this sounds wonderful, but I'm not convinced that introducing 3D views of sites and application-specific "thumbnails" of sites is the way to go. Unless someone introduces a standard method by which sites can supply navigational data to a new generation of browsers, the only practical means by which a client can generate a full site map at the outset is to download the entire directory structure (if not the content itself), which will cause a significant delay before the map is usable. A well-designed hierarchical approach isn't a perfect solution, but it's what has powered seven years-worth of explosive growth in Web use, and it'll take a lot to persuade people to use more complex client software. This is a little like the proposals for more "advanced" Usenet clients I discussed a few weeks ago: it looks very clever, but it's overly complicated for the average user. [Via Techdirt]
Named and Shamed: the UK's slowest e-commerce sites.
I email you. I email you. I email you.
"The reason we come up with new versions is not to fix bugs. It's absolutely not. It's the stupidest reason to buy a new version that I've ever heard...." So says Bill Gates. Gates is right, but not in the sense he intends: getting bug fixes is no reason to buy an upgrade, because fixes should be made available free of charge to people who paid for fully working software.

Bryan Pfaffenberger thinks that this attitude is going to lead to Silicon Valley meeting the same fate as Detroit. If Silicon Valley = Detroit, then does India = Japan? [Via Metafilter]
Illustrating an entirely different attitude towards fixing bugs, Joe Pranevic explains why the Linux 2.4 kernel isn't really "delayed" at all. [Via Metafilter]
Thursday 4 May 2000, 23:55 BST
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill progresses to the next stage of parliamentary scrutiny, the report stage, next week. The Register reports on the Liberal Democrats' opposition to the Bill. This echoes some of the themes of the Tory viewpoint, but none of this alters the fact that even if the entire parliamentary delegations of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties voted against the Bill, given the size of the Labour majority it'll take a fair amount of abstentions or votes against the government line from Labour MPs to get any changes made if the government decides to stick to its guns. If you haven't been to Stand.org.uk yet to read up on the RIP Bill and find the details of how to fax your MP for free then get over there now, or before you know it forgetting your password will be liable to land you in jail for two years, and telling anyone that you've been asked for your password will add another five years to that sentence.
Jorn Barger wasn't the first weblogger, but he's been doing it for a while now and his eclectic approach to weblogging and catholic tastes have led him to some fascinating content over the years which he's been good enough to share with the rest of us. Read a profile of Jorn Barger (and a celebration of the Joy of Weblogs) in Feed, and visit Robot Wisdom to see what he's found lately.
As we await the judge's decision regarding the Microsoft case and consider Microsoft's behaviour over the years, one question remains: did Microsoft skip a grade?
This is a joke. Isn't it? [Via Metafilter]
Tuesday 2 May 2000, 23:20 BST
Someone's patented a machine for drafting patents! [Via Pigs & Fishes]
Say it with (dead) flowers. Lovely. [Via Memepool]
Scott Rosenberg is a good deal more sceptical than I am about the efficacy of the US Department of Justice's suggested remedies in the Microsoft case, but he's no apologist for Microsoft. His latest Salon column is a clinical piece dissecting Bill Gates' recent statements to demonstrate just how far they undermine Microsoft's own case as outlined in their submissions to Judge Jackson.

Rosenberg comments at one point that Linux users don't want MS Office for Linux, they want access to the file formats so their apps can share data with MS Office apps. That's certainly true - indeed, a lot of Linux True Believers would refuse to touch MS Office for Linux on general principles - but trainers and tech support people in large organisations would like to have to support just one user interface too, so it'll take more than an open file format to weaken the dominance of MS Office. StarOffice has pretty much all the word processing and spreadsheet functionality the average MS Office user requires, but its user interface is just different enough to that of standard Windows apps in general (and MS Office in particular) that Sun aren't exactly being killed by the rush to dump MS Office.

If I were running a small office where it was practical to offer support in person I'd go with StarOffice in a flat minute, but I'd hate to have to nurse everyone through the process of learning the differences in jargon and operation between MS Office and StarOffice even in the not particularly large office I work in, with around 70 MS Word-using staff. It can be done, for sure, but I can understand why firms might not want to do it.
As if Bill Gates didn't have enough troubles at the moment. [Via Metafilter]
Mighty square faces going ticktock to love! More mondegreens from Jon Carroll.
Roll up, roll up for the interview of the century. Paxman versus Alien Queen.
Monday 1 May 2000, 22:35 BST
What have Microsoft ever done for us? [Via author Geoff Lane's posting to alt.folklore.computers]
Compare and contrast the result of this Internet defamation lawsuit with the one launched by the infamous Dr Godfrey. Then weep quietly to yourself at the quality of British "justice."
Jon Carroll has published the first of this year's crop of mondegreens.
Mutiny on Broadway. Picard versus the publicists.
For people who claim to be in favour of the vigorous interplay of ideas and freedom of speech, born-again Conservatives can be awfully touchy about the great liberal conspiracy to silence them. If I hadn't read enough of his columns to know better, I'd think David Horowitz was joking.
Sunday 30 April 2000, 23:55 BST
The big news this weekend has, of course, been the media's analysis of the Department of Justice's proposals with respect to the Microsoft case. There are reasonably comprehensive outlines of the proposals and their potential effects here and here. On the face of it, it looks to me as if the interim proposals restricting Microsoft's ability to use its knowledge of the Windows APIs and its pricing and bundling policies to put competitors at a disadvantage are pretty much on the right track. The proposal to split Microsoft into separate OS and applications companies makes sense also, but I strongly doubt that it'll ever happen, given the potential for political interference in the process between now and the end of the appeals process some time around about 2004 or so!
Regular readers will have noticed that I'm a sucker for striking astronomical images. However, manned spaceflight has given the world some pretty amazing pictures too. NASA's Apollo Lunar Surface Journal makes images taken by the astronauts on and above the lunar surface available to anyone (even those of us outside the US, whose taxes never paid a cent towards the cost of getting the images in the first place!) who wants to see just how barren, desolate yet beautiful the Moon really is. My favourite images are the ones which show the Lunar Lander as a tiny speck in the midst of a barren lunar plain, like this one. [Via User Friendly's Link Of The Day feature]
Since the Open Source community blows a loud raspberry every time a security hole is discovered in a Microsoft product, it's only fair hat a major bug which could leave Red Hat-based systems wide open should get a mention too.
Do female scientists try too hard to find consensus, and thus hinder their ability to make scientific breakthroughs which rely upon questioning the status quo? If so, does this mean they need to work with male colleagues to overcome this shortcoming? Gina Hamilton thinks so. [Via NewsTrolls]
Over the last couple of years any number of firms have been encouraging users to store their personal data online. First it was web-based email providers like Hotmail, then various online bookmark and calendar sites appeared. Such services are undeniably convenient for those who really need 24/7 access to their data from anywhere in the world, but it does mean that you're leaving your data at the mercy of the online service provider. If they decide to drop your data with no notice, as eGroups have just dropped their calendar application, you're in deep trouble. [Via TBTF]
We live on a very safe planet. Or at any rate, one that could so easily have been a lot less conducive to the development of intelligent life. [Via Honeyguide]

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