March 21, 2009

GoogleAnon

If you're like everybody else who uses the Web, I imagine you use Google's popular search engine to look up information about different topics. Well, just like about any other Web site out there, Google sets cookies on your browser for various reasons, such as remembering preferences.

With Google however, it keeps cookies that track user searches and stores them on its database for possible future needs. Some of these cookies are set to last for 30 to 35 years into the future. That is some time to keep search information, don't you think? Although Google doesn't keep actual user's names and addresses, it does assign your system a unique ID that is complete with your IP address.

Now, I'm not trying to make Google out to be the bad guys. I actually think that they are a great company. In an industry where I have seen a lot of companies gauge their users for more and more to become successful, Google has always been there for the users, all the while keeping the rest of the industry on its toes. But, it still doesn't mean I want my cookies stored in my browser or on their server for an umpteen amount of years.

So, the cookies might not bother you. You know and trust Google, so why worry? There are a couple reasons I choose to worry.

1.) It's my job.

2.) AOL, MSN and Yahoo have already given up some information like this to the government upon request and this is the information Google was being suspended for at the beginning of this year.

3.) Even though Google's motto is “Don't Be Evil,” there is no telling what will happen in the future. The IT industry is volatile at best and business makes strange bedfellows. With Google offering more services, such as e-mail and blogs, they have much more information about users than they used to. This, to me, means that If Google changes their mission statement, they will have potentially tons of information on users.

4.) My final reason for the Google cookie paranoia is hackers and data leaks. This information can be invaluable to certain entities; so much so that not only hackers, but employees have been stealing information as well, so why leave it out there?

So, what do you do about this? Well, you can clean out your cookies regularly (which you should do anyway), but if you have a lot of Web settings you don't want to change, there is another way.

I found this the other day and I thought it would come in handy as an online security utility. It's called GoogleAnon and it helps you conduct Google searches anonymously. GoogleAnon sets your Google GUID buy viagra on line to all zeros so you can perform search after search without leaving a trace as to whom you are.

GoogleAnon is a service that you save as a favorite in order to use. You can also drag it from your browser bookmarks to your personal links for quicker access. Once you have the GoogleAnon setup, open up an Internet browser and navigate to google.com. Now, access the GoogleAnon, which is in your favorites and you should see the following box come up, which shows your assigned Google ID.

Select OK and it will zero out your ID. Once this is done, you are taken back to the Google preference page to reset three to four different settings that are usually stored by Google cookies. Select OK again. Now you are ready to use Google without worrying about being observed for future endeavors, projects or experiments.

GoogleAnon should work on the following browsers: IE4+, Opera, AOL, Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox.

Click here to access GoogleAnon. Once there, scroll up a little and look for the little box that says GoogleAnon. You're going to save it to your Favorites and then close and reopen your browser, so it will displayed in your Favorites list. Just follow all the instructions to get started.

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March 5, 2009

The Pirate Bay trial and a tough new Swedish law

James Hall on 26 February 2009

According to the Local, various members of the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) have taken the stand in the ongoing trial against the Pirate Bay now unfolding in Sweden. At one point, John Kennedy, chairman of the IFPI, was silenced in the middle of his testimony by the judge after Per E. Samuelson, defence attorney for the Pirate Bay, protested that Kennedy had drifted into giving what amounted to a "political speech" on behalf of the recording industry.

Later, Per Sundin, the head of the Swedish wing of Universal Music, claimed that "Sweden has the worst respect for copyright in the world" before, as Neowin had anticipated, he brought up the recent leak of U2's new album, No Line on the Horizon, in the days leading up to its official release. Samuelson challenged him by pointing out that the premature release of the album was due to an industry error (the album was accidentally made available for digital download in Australia prior to its official release date).

Samuelson then asked him exactly what the Pirate Bay had to do with that leak and the copyright infringement that followed. The point is a valid one, as Neowin has noted earlier today. The infringement of copyright is down to individuals using bittorrent clients. The Pirate Bay may provide the torrent files themselves, but these files contain no material that directly infringes copyright.

Sundin's confused reply was, "If we had more resources we would have [gone after individual users]. But we're going after the biggest and baddest villain of the piece and buy viagra now that is The Pirate Bay." This may be the way Sundin and the IFPI view the matter, but it is unlikely that the Pirate Bay personnel on trial will be found guilty of anything.

Besides, up to now, it has been difficult to go after individual file-sharers in Sweden (unlike in the United States), but this situation has changed in the recording industry's favour.

At the same time Sundin was berating the Pirated Bay as "the biggest and baddest villain", the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) passed a tough new law making it easier for copyright-holders to go after individuals suspected of infringement. Green Party Lage Rahm, one of many on the left who objected to the law, stated, "To stop file sharing a police state is required where all internet traffic is under surveillance. Is it worth it? We think copyright is important, but the problem is that it's not right to criminalize people for what they do for private use."

Rahm also expressed his fear that the new legislation would lead to "blackmail situations" where people accused of infringement would agree to "pay off" the record companies rather than face a trial. This fear contains an implicit reference to what has routinely happened in the United States and is often referred to as "extortion" by legal commentators, noting how the RIAA has systematically used the American legal system to bully individuals into "settling" out of court.

Still, proponents of the new law feel that sufficient safeguards will be in place to stop recording-industry attorneys from simply pushing the "threat" button to bypass the courts in order to use citizens as cash machines, as those critical of the RIAA's activities in America have portrayed the matter.

On a lighter note, and in keeping with the Pirate Bay's correspondence with the recording and film industry, "Kopimi" has sent a "Nigerian 409" email (of sorts) to John Kennedy, chairman of the IFPI, asking for £47,500,000.

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March 4, 2009

Vista SP2 Release Candidate available to the public

Posted by Mary Jo Foley @ 5:01 am

As Microsoft officials promised, the company has released this week to the general public the near-final Release Candidate test bits for Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Server 2008 SP2.

The SP2 RC bits can be downloaded from Microsoft’s buy viagra in london Download Center.

As Neowin notes, the Microsoft Web page still says the new bits are the beta bits. But they are actually the RC ones.

The final SP2 builds are widely expected to be out in April 2009.


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Five things every Windows beta tester should know

March 1st, 2009

Posted by Ed Bott

Last week my colleague Mary Jo Foley reported on rumblings of discontent from the invitation-only Windows 7 technical beta test community:

A number of Windows 7 testers have complained recently that Microsoft was not sharing enough information about changes it planned to make in response to their feedback.

Windows SuperSite’s Paul Thurrott questioned in a post yesterday whether Microsoft had already locked down Windows 7’s feature set before the majority of technical and public beta testers ever got to see a first release of the product. I’ve wondered the same.

This was all in response to another epic post on the Engineering Windows 7 blog by Steven Sinofsky, who tried to explain how the feedback process worked. The whole thing is worth reading, although at 4700+ words I’m afraid most people will just skim it.

Frankly, I’m having a hard time working up any level of sympathy for those doing the complaining, partly because I heartily approve of the way Windows 7 development is going right now and partly because I have seen the feedback process up close and personal. Microsoft is getting a bad rap from a group of people who are mourning the reality that they’re no longer being treated as privileged elites.

I was going to ignore this whole brouhaha, until I read a post on the subject by WinPatrol developer and Microsoft MVP Bill Pytlovany that included this provocative proposition:

Most Beta Testers Suck

As a developer I can tell you , beta tests aren’t what they used to be.  The number of people who actually report decent bug information is minimal. Most people download the beta just to be an earlier adopter. Developers are lucky if users read the release notes and compatibility list let alone any beta instructions. There are so many different machine configurations that sadly the only way to find some bugs is to have full global adoption of new software.

Bill isn’t going to endear himself to any beta testers with that line of argument, but he does have a point. I’ve read many of the complaints Mary Jo referred to and a few hundred others on the members-only Windows 7 technical beta newsgroups. I think a lot of beta testers need a refresher course in the basics of what it means to be involved in the development of a product as complex as Windows.

In that spirit, here’s my list of five things every Windows 7 beta tester should know:

1. Things have changed. According to Thurrott, “The real problem here is that the feature set of Windows 7 was frozen well before the Beta release. So the feedback [Sinofsky] discusses throughout this post is 99 percent bug testing, really (and 1 percent, we hear your concerns but have a million reasons why we can’t change a thing).”

And this is a problem? I don’t think it’s any accident that the two most troublesome releases in the history of Windows also had the longest beta cycles. I was running pre-beta builds of Windows 95 in 1993, nearly two years before it was released. The first alpha releases of Longhorn, which eventually became Windows Vista, were handed out at the PDC in late 2003, nearly three years before Vista shipped.

By the time a beta is released, the feature set should be pretty much frozen. That’s how you concentrate on things like quality and performance.

As for the complaint that Microsoft hasn’t listened to feedback and ignored its most loyal customers when developing the feature set for Windows 7, I say, “Give me a break.” Since November 2006, Microsoft has gotten an earful about its Windows design decisions. The feedback loop includes:

  • Every blog post, review, newsgroup posting, and rant about Vista ever published
  • Support calls to Microsoft and its partners
  • Requests from PC makers and software developers
  • Telemetry data (all those crash reports really do go somewhere)
  • Field research and usability testing
  • Interviews with opinion leaders, including Paul and me, who have given feedback to Microsoft in person and on the phone many times in recent years. You think they weren’t taking notes?

That’s a helluva lot of feedback to take into account. There comes a point where more doesn’t mean better.

2. Windows design is a series of compromises. A lot of the complaints I’ve heard boil down to “Well, that’s not how I would have designed that feature.” Right. When you’re building a product that is going to be used by hundreds of millions of people, you have to find some common denominators. And as I wrote last year, sometimes there is no right answer: you can bet that for any decision you make, some nontrivial number of people will think you’re a complete idiot, no matter which option you choose.

I also hear lots of feedback suggesting that Microsoft should never remove a feature and should always give its old-time users a way to preserve the procedures they learned five or 10 or even 20 years ago. Seriously, I’ve heard people argue that Windows 7 should include the old File Manager utility from Windows 3.1. Can you imagine how complicated, even bloated, Windows code would be if no feature was ever cut and you could choose from a dozen or so Classic interfaces going back to 1991? But that’s the logical conclusion from that line of argument.

Things evolve. Old features disappear, and new ones are introduced. Deal with it. If you think there’s a better way to implement a new feature than the one Microsoft chose, blog it. But it helps if you can make a rational case – remember, you’re dealing with engineers. Simply saying “XYZ feature sucks” isn’t likely to win hearts or minds.

3. Writing good bug reports is hard work. I sympathize with testers who complain that their bug report was closed as “Non-repro.” buy viagra cheap But that’s reality. If it was easy to reproduce, the bug would most likely have been caught in one of the many, many automated testing cycles that each Windows build goes through. The really tricky bugs are those that are triggered by unusual combinations of hardware and software under specific conditions.

In fact, if you talk to the developers who dig into those incoming bug reports from technical beta testers, as I’ve done, you’ll quickly learn that it’s a pretty low-yield process. Most are duplicates and the vast majority are just requests for new features or changes to existing ones. When they get closed as “won’t fix” or “by design,” it’s because someone already considered that request and decided for any of a thousand reasons (budget, compatibility, risk of regression, or conflicting data) that the feature is going to remain as it is.

4. One more build does not mean a better product. In fact, you could argue as I did last week that the work of building an “official” beta release slows down progress. Pytlovany, who has worked inside Microsoft, agrees:

Every new beta release is a distraction to developers. The time it takes to create a frozen version takes away from a developers imagination and productivity. […] The internal testing required before any public beta is a lot longer than you might think.

If you’ve identified a bug and it’s made it onto the must-fix list, it shouldn’t take multiple passes to fix it. Microsoft’s Charlie Owen, who works on the Media Center team, had some great advice for beta testers  in a blog post last week:

When the Windows 7 Release Candidate becomes available immediately download, install, test deeply and quickly provide actionable feedback.

Seriously: As the release candidate is downloading and with tenderness, kiss your spouse on the cheek and tell him or her you’ll be back in a week or so. Then lock yourself in the home office and be relentless and unforgiving in your testing of the Windows 7 Release Candidate and provide feedback.

5. Shipping is a feature. There is no such thing as perfect software. If the developers of any complex software product like an OS waited for every bug report to be “fixed.” the software would literally never ship.

The one thing Microsoft can do going forward that it has not done well in the past is to incorporate feedback from the current test cycle into the next version. The best way for that to happen is for Microsoft to develop a consistent, professional process for planning and shipping new releases on a predictable schedule. In theory, features that don’t make it into this release have a legitimate shot at making it into Windows 8. As Charlie Owen put it, “You should consider the Windows 7 Release Candidate as your first and best opportunity to influence the next version of Windows.”

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Microsoft: Here are some of the Win 7 changes coming in the next build

February 26th, 2009

Posted by Mary Jo Foley

Windows 7 testers wanted more feedback from Microsoft. It looks like they’re getting it.

In a February 26 post to the Engineering Windows 7 blog, Microsoft itemized some of the changes that it is making to Windows 7 that will be part of the Release Candidate (RC) test build that is widely expected in April.

From the blog post introduction by Windows chief Steven Sinofsky:

“(W)e want to start posting on the feedback and the engineering actions we’ve taken in responding to the feedback.  We won’t be able to cover all the changes (as we’re still busy making them), but for today we wanted to start with a sampling of some of the more visible changes.”

The post goes on to detail some of the Windows 7 changes Microsoft is making in response to tester feedback — in the task bar, Media Player, networking, touch, the Windows Explorer and overall performance.  Given that Windows 7 was deemed “feature-complete” as of the public beta that Microsoft released in January, the changes coming between then and the Release Candidate are largely cosmetic. (At least it seems that way to me….)

A number of Windows 7 testers have complained recently that Microsoft was not sharing enough information about changes it planned to make in response to their feedback.

Windows SuperSite’s Paul Thurrott questioned in a post yesterday buy cheap generic viagra color=”#004d99″>whether Microsoft had already locked down Windows 7’s feature set before the majority of technical and public beta testers ever got to see a first release of the product. I’ve wondered the same.

It’s great Microsoft is starting to share feedback with the thousands, if not millions, of testers who take their time to help the company find and fix bugs and usability problems. But Thurrott’s question is still a good one.

Windows 7 testers: Is this feedback that Microsoft is providing enough? Any other specific features/areas you’d like to see addressed in the future?

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