Author Archive | David Worthington

My New iMac: Nice, But Not Without its Snags

My new 21.5” iMac arrived on Friday. I spent the weekend transferring files from my old machine and installing the applications that I wanted. The experience was overwhelmingly positive, but it wasn’t as seamless as it could have been.

Unpacking and setting up the machine was a breeze, and its quality was excellent-even though I purchased it from Apple’s refurbished Mac store. (I saved around $200.)  The machine booted up, instantly recognizing the wireless keyboard and mouse. It then asked me if I wanted to migrate from another machine.

I lacked the necessary cable, so I opted not to use the transfer wizard; I had already shared folders on my old Mac. Files transferred over the air through my home network, and everything went smoothly–until I tried to set up my machine for work.

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MySpace User Data For Sale

Social networking just became a little riskier to your privacy. Information from MySpace is now for sale to third parties ranging from academics and analysts to marketers.

The data will include any activity or information that is attached to an account. That includes blog posts, location, photos, reviews, and status updates–among others. InfoChimps, an Austin Texas company that collects and sells structured data, is selling the data.

Of course, MySpace is perfectly within its rights to work with Infochimps, because it legally owns the data and the server logs. Users wave their right to privacy in exchange for free Web hosting and access to its social features. “Free” comes at a cost. Here’s snippet of what “they” know about you.

This is exactly the type of scenario that Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center warned of at a seminar about privacy in cloud computing last month. Except I wouldn’t have imagined that MySpace would be one of the really aggressive purveyors of personal data.

In his talk, Moglen advocated for the development of peer-to-peer social networks where users retain ownership of their data. His suggestion is looking more appealing (and prophetic) now that one of the biggest names in social networking has sold out its users’ privacy.

[NOTE: The original version of this story stated that MySpace was selling data; in fact, Infochimps is the seller, through a revenue-sharing agreement with MySpace. MySpace has released the following statement:

MySpace is not selling user data to Infochimps. MySpace provides developers, including companies such as Infochimps, with free access to publicly available real-time data (such as status updates, music, photos, videos) using our Real Time Stream feed. We have identified the need for third-party developers who can’t handle the size of our full feed to still have access to the data in a different format.  For this reason Infochimps is offering developers a pre-packaged version of our Real Time Stream, as a value-added service.

More information is available at Infochimps’ blog.]


FCC Begins Benchmarking ISPs’ Broadband Claims

The Federal Communications Commission has begun to benchmark Internet service speeds across the United States to allow consumer to compare the real world performance of their ISP with its advertised speeds. I’d like to see some action.

The program is under the aegis of the National Broadband Plan, which was created with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to accelerate broadband deployment in the United States. The FCC is gathering data down to the level of home address.

“The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement to Reuters. The benchmarks will be combined with other data and presented to Congress as part of the agency’s broadband proposal.

Consumers may visit the agency’s Web page to run the rest from their PCs or download the FCC Broadband Test app for Android and the iPhone. (When I ran the test, a script froze Firefox 3.6 on my Mac to the point where I had to manually kill the process, but Safari worked without a hitch.)

The test, which is powered by Ookla Net Metrics, mirrored the results given from other testing engines in my area. I have Time Warner’s Road Runner service in Manhattan. My results were: 9165kbps download speed/490 kbps upload speed.

Time Warner is cagey about putting its advertised speeds out on the Web. Its “Speeds Levels” page for Road Runner lists capabilities – not speeds. I had to look at the fine print for a comparison made with DSL services at the bottom of the page to see that it promises a standard download speed of up to 10 Mbps.

Typically, my speeds vary throughout the day. A Speakeasy speed test returned downstream results of 3.5Mbps yesterday afternoon. I informed Time Warner about the issue through its e-mail support, and received a boilerplate answer about resetting my modem and router as a response.

Hey FCC –how about some accountability with those benchmarks? Most Americans get broadband from regional monopolies or oligopolies, and I bet that their actual performance doesn’t always match what those providers advertise.

In October, the FCC concluded that open access to broadband infrastructure is a catalyst for competition and deals for consumers. That competition couldn’t come soon enough.

Now the FCC has the ammo to at least prompt better service levels. I am stuck with Time Warner. My only other option is Verizon, but my building isn’t wired for it–yet. More. Choice. Please.


Xbox 360 Games on Your iPhone? Yes. But Not From Microsoft

On Monday, Novell will demonstrate new technology that will allow Microsoft Xbox 360 games to be translated into iPhone apps. It also has the capability to be used to create Android games, potentially taking some Xbox games to the mobile masses.

Novell, a Microsoft frenemy, is making it possible for you to play Xbox games on other devices now, while Microsoft, which created the platform, will leave you waiting for Windows Phone 7 handsets, due late this year. For whatever reason, Microsoft has chosen to be less than aggressive in supporting two extremely popular smartphone platforms despite obvious consumer demand.

It is worth noting that Microsoft has partnered with Nokia to port Silverlight, a .NET technology, to Symbian phones. But there has been no word about porting Xbox games to Symbian. Thankfully, the Mono team has taken up the slack where Microsoft decides it isn’t going to play.

The iPhone app that Novell created is an open source derivative of an Indiana Jones games that Microsoft is showing off running on Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox. The game is built using Microsoft’s XNA framework, which is based upon its .NET Framework.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 will run XNA 4.0 games, enabling developers of those games to reuse their investment and programming skills for Windows Phone handsets.

Novell is supporting XNA in its MonoTouch technology, which enables developers to translate .NET applications into native code on the iPhone. It has also done something similar for Android, but that solution is in its early stages of development (rumor is Microsoft may be porting Silverlight). Who wants to wager that Novell will bring Xbox games to Android before Microsoft finishes Windows Phone 7?

Interestingly, Microsoft supports the Mono effort. I can vouch that it has a strong relationship with the Mono team, and it views Mono as an insurance policy to protect customers’ .NET and Silverlight investments. Does Novell benefit from that arrangement? Sure. It’s like Microsoft’s pilot fish; it gets the business that Microsoft doesn’t want.

However, Microsoft is losing developer mind share as more and more apps are created specifically for Android and iPhone. Will a broad library of indy Xbox games be enough to differentiate Windows Phone from the rest of the pack? That remains to be seen – we’re not talking Halo.


Apple’s Lawsuit Against HTC: Bad for Consumers?

Apple’s lawsuit against Taiwanese handset manufacturer HTC is meant to prevent smartphones that resemble the iPhone from competing in the U.S. market, limiting consumer choice, but protecting Apple’s incentive to innovate, legal experts say.

Yesterday, news broke that Apple had filed suit against HTC with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and U.S. District Court in Delaware for allegedly violating a slew of iPhone related patents. HTC derives nearly half of its annual smartphone sales from the U.S. market, and the majority sold are Android phones, including Google’s Nexus One, according to UBS.

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A Web Site is No Longer Enough

The way in which we interact with technology has changed dramatically over the past few years. The era of light computing has begun, and social media is big enough that the average person can shape perceptions. A Web site is no longer the most meaningful way for us to interact to tell companies about their products or to use online services.

Smartphones are selling in droves, and people are using apps rather than visiting Web sites for everything from buying movie tickets to checking stocks. At any given time, it is likely that conversations about big businesses are happening on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and those conversations can be initiated by anyone from anywhere.

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The Internet Spying Problem Back Here

US-China relations have turned contentious over the past several months, particularly in regard to the issue of “Internet freedom.” But neither nation has an unblemished record on Internet privacy, says Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center.

Last month, Google declared that it has discovered cyberattacks on its systems targeting Chinese humans rights workers, and made a decision to terminate the censored version of Google in China as a response.

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Is Cloud Computing Dangerous?

Cloud services like Facebook and Gmail might be “free,” but they carry an immense social cost, threatening the privacy and freedom of people who are too willing to trade it away for a perceived convenience, according to Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center.

On Friday, Moglen was the guest speaker at a seminar at New York University that was sponsored by local technology organizations. Moglen criticized the hierarchical nature of the Web today, and called for a return to peer-to-peer communications.

“The underlying architecture of the Net is meant to be about peerage,” Moglen said. “…There was nothing on the technical side to prevent it, but there was a software problem.”

The client/server architecture has been locked in over the past two decades by Microsoft Windows, Moglen claimed. “Servers were given a lot of power, and clients had very little.”

Control has been moved even further away from the client (people) by cloud services, which can be physically located anywhere in the world where the provider chooses to operate, Moglen said. Privacy laws vary widely from country to country.

There was no discussion of social consequences on the part of computer sciences as they created technologies that comprise the Web, Moglen said. “The architecture is begging to be misused.” Cloud providers are the biggest offenders, in Moglen’s view.

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Reports: Apple Will Sell Eight Million iPads by 2012

An analyst with Needham & Company has projected that Apple will sell 2 million iPads this year with an additional 6M being sold in 2011. The sales will come at the expense of Apple’s iPod Touch, according to reports today.

Sales will begin moderately. The anticipated spike in sales will occur after “the arrival of a catalyst,” but the report did not specify what that incentive would be. The iTunes store worked before, and it may work again.

That is evidenced by reports of interactive textbooks headed to the iPad. The iPad also could appeal to people who have light computing requirements such as seniors.

In comparison, the iPhone was much more mass market. Over 1 million iPhones were sold within 71 days of its introduction, and sold over 8 million units last quarter. The iPhone has contributed remarkably to Apple’s revenues–without massively cannibalizing the sales of iPods. The iPad could be viewed as a substitute for the iPod Touch.

The thing to keep in mind is that this is only the first iteration of the iPad. There’s no shortage of speculation about what Apple may or may deliver when the iPad ships – from evidence of a camera to an “intelligent bezel.” We don’t know the entire story of what “it” is yet, or what it will become. The iPad could very well end up carrying other Apple products.

Whether those reports are accurate or not, they do prove one thing: there is no shortage of potential for the tablet category. Even if Google enters the market, increased category awareness and growth should only support Apple’s sales.


The iPad Isn’t Just for Us–It’s for Aunt Bettys Too

Nobody reading this post is ever going to use Apple’s new iPad as his or her sole computer. But there is a group of folks who might: People like my late aunt Betty, who used WebTV to send e-mail. The iPad’s portability and streamlined interface for common tasks make it a compelling device for people–usually older people–who have chosen to opt out of the computer revolution until now.

My aunt never had a PC, and as far as I know, didn’t want one. Would she have been willing to spend $500 on an appliance that she could use in his living room for keeping in touch with her family and reading the paper? Maybe. The WebTV price was set at $329.

I will tell you one thing–Aunt Betty wound’t have cared about how “open” the iPad was as long as it did what she expected. If she could listen to music, watch movies, read, and use it for e-mail and theWeb, she’d probably be pleased with her purchase. The question of whether the iPad could multitask would never come up.

The iPad is meant to sync with a PC or Mac, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t become a fully autonomous, standalone device. It will be interesting to see what Apple does with MobileMe and the iPad.

My colleague Harry McCracken commented that Web TV was supposed to be for young folks, but unintentionally found a market among “oldsters.” It is possible that the iPad could achieve the same success among people who would not typically buy a PC. I’m curious to see the demographics of who ends up buying it–it may not be the “innovators” who you’d expect.

It doesn’t look like Apple is catering to Aunt Betty types, but it should.