Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Web's About To Get Faster

You may not have heard of Hypertext Transfer Protocol version 2, but it is going to make your internet experience a whole lot faster.

HTTP is the protocol used to power the World Wide Web by defining how hypertext (the code in webpages) is to be formatted and transmitted and how Web servers and browsers should respond to those commands. A URL typed into a browser, for example, becomes an HTTP command to the server telling it to retrieve the given Web page.

Currently, the most common version of HTTP in use is HTTP/1.1.  The HTTP/2 standard is expected to speed up loading of Web pages by transporting data between browser and server. 

The new protocol is backward-compatible with the older protocol, so existing webpages will work just fine.  HTTP/2 speeds up web browsing by carrying more data in a single pass with each request to load the requested Web site.  This is especially important for smart phone access, which now accounts for about 33 percent of all Web access, up from 25 percent a year ago, according to statistics from StatCounter.

Once the new standards are published, sites and hosting companies can choose to start implementing them.

Google, which was a driving force behind the new standard, will begin implementing it in the Chrome web browser next year.  Google developed the network protocol known as SPDY ("speedy") for transporting content over the Web with reduced latency.  SPDY serves as the basis of HTTP/2.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

For Valentine's Day: How does a geek say 'I love you'?

Friday, January 23, 2015

It may just be everything that Windows 8 should have been

Windows 8 was a bold re-imagining of Microsoft's operating system, but the Start screen proved contentious.  The colorful Live Tiles offer useful notifications and information, but they were designed with touchscreen devices in mind: much of the work we do in Windows involves keyboards, mice, and large displays chock-full of windows and apps. 

Windows 8's Modern apps demand a full screen's attention, oblivious of our need to multitask.  The new Windows 10 Start Menu gives us the best of both worlds.

Boot up a PC running the Windows 10, and you'll be dropped off at the oh-so-familiar desktop.  The taskbar and its icons sits on the bottom, and the recycle bin sits in the upper-left corner.  It looks, at first blush, like Windows 8 all over again. 

But press the Start button, and you'll be greeted by the return of the Start menu. It's a proper Start menu too, with your most frequently used apps are stacked in a column.  Press the "All Apps" button and you'll find the endless column of nested folders we've all been scrolling since Windows 95, though they're now grouped alphabetically.  Sitting alongside that column are Windows 8's animated Live Tiles, endlessly serving up news-bites and social network updates.

[Read it all.]

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Dangers of Vertical Video Syndrome

Even if you know how to shoot video on your mobile device, you need to watch this.  Plus, it's funny.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Windows PCs See Steepest Decline Ever

Readers of this blog will remember that I have been issuing negative predictions about Windows 8 ever since I first saw it.  PC Magazine Columnist John C. Dvorak now seems positively prescient with his June 2011 column, "Will Windows 8 Kill Microsoft?"  There is growing evidence the negative predictions were right:  
The market for Windows-based PCs has declined faster than anticipated. According to two independent reports, PCs fell off 11.2 percent to 13.9 percent in the first quarter of 2013 — the steepest decline in the history of the PC.
A 'Worrisome' Decline
According to market research firm IDC, worldwide PC shipments fell of 13.9 percent in the first quarter (versus 1Q 2012) to 76.3 million units worldwide, significantly greater than IDC's previous forecast of a decline of 7.7 percent.
IDC pointed to the launch of Windows 8 as a contributing factor to the hefty decline.
"At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," said Bob O'Donnell, IDC program vice president, clients and displays, in a prepared statement.  "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices.  Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."
Microsoft keeps blowing it with desktop operating systems.  Remember Windows Vista?  It was supposed to drive new PC sales just as Windows 8 is supposed to now.  Only instead of driving PC sales with a new operating system that people wanted to upgrade to, Microsoft tried to force new PC sales by selling an operating system that couldn't run on the PC's that anyone currently owned.  People rebelled, and the result was a relatively quick roll out of Windows 7. 

Microsoft continues to labor under the impression that instead of listening to what customers actually want, or even what computer experts think computers should actually look like, they can make design decisions based on what business and marketing experts tell them they should be selling.

Let me add a note to all PC manufacturers:  PC users don't want to touch their screens!  It is one thing to wipe the fingerprints off my tablet once every couple of days.  I would really hate to have to clean my laptop or desktop PC that often.  And the best way to interact with data on a screen is with a mouse or trackpad.

So let's hope that Microsoft comes out with a replacement for Windows 8 as quickly as they replaced Vista with Windows 7.  And, while Microsoft is rethinking its mistakes with Windows 8, it might want to rethink that "ribbon interface" in Office as well.

I have been saying for a decade that I could run Microsoft better than Steve Ballmer.  So if anyone in Redmond is reading this, I'm available.  Call me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stationery's New Followers

From The Wall Street Journal:
STATIONERYTwitter executive Elizabeth Bailey Weil makes stationery on a letterpress in her garage.  Judy Clement Wall has 1,665 Twitter followers, but when she really wants to connect with one of them, she takes out a piece of stationery and picks up her pen.

She wasn't much of a letter writer before she began to spend time on blogs and social networks like Twitter.  But as some of her virtual friends became real ones, a letter, she says, "solidifies the friendship.  It makes the person real and 3D in a way that they can't be online."

Social-media fans are embracing paper.  While United States Postal Service sees a decline in mailed letters overall, tech-savvy paper-lovers—in frequent contact via blogs, Facebook and Twitter—are giving rise to a host of small stationery makers.
Read it all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spearphishing: The dirty email trick favored by the nastiest hackers

If you consider yourself a proficient internet user, you probably know to watch out for phishing attempts — massive email efforts to get you to hand over personal financial information like a credit card number or to click on a website link that could allow malware to steal information from your computer.  They usually come in e-mail messages riddled with spelling errors and terrible formatting.

Now comes a new, more subtle and more dangerous threat: spearphishing.  Spearphishing is often aimed at tricking specific individuals into opening a malicious file.  It could be, for instance, a boobytrapped PDF file or Word document which, when opened, secretly and silently installs spyware onto your computer.

Spearphishing is increasingly being used by totalitarian governments seeking to spy on individuals and to infiltrate computers belonging to government agencies in other countries.  Sophisticated criminal organizations have also started using the technique to obtain valuable financial information.   

Once installed, the malicious spyware code opens a backdoor, giving hackers remote access to all the files on your computer, as well as the ability to capture every keystroke, to steal passwords, and to read everything on your screen.

But why would an anyone be fooled into opening such an email?  The information in the email is crafted to look and sound just right enough so that it can dupe someone into clicking on a link or opening an attachment in an email and for their computer to become compromised. 

For instance, imagine you were a reporter covering human rights abuses in China.  I simply send you an email (with a boobytrapped attachment), forge my 'from' address so you believe that the email has come from a human rights group, and in the body of the email tell you that attached you'll find shocking details of human rights abuses in China.  If you click on the link or the attachment, I can then read all the information on your computer, including the identities of dissidents who may be supplying you with information.

Similarly, if you were a military supplier, I might make my email appear as though it came from a sister company or another supplier and use the access to your computer to gain vital military intelligence.

Some experts say that company employees and individuals who use cloud-based, shared document apps like Google Docs can be sitting ducks for spearphishing attempts.  In the first place, Google Docs is a very convenient way to fool end users into divulging passwords, because it is such a trusted source.  Also, Google Docs connections are HTTPS encrypted, and cannot be filtered by Web-filtering gateways to scan for malicious content.

While spearphishing may currently be used by governments and sophisticated criminal organizations against specific targets, we can expect large-scale hackers to begin using this technique to harvest financial data and other sensitive information from members of the general public.  The best precaution is to examine messages--especially those carrying attachments or containing links--very closely, to make sure you are viewing the entire file name of an attachment before clicking on it, to make certain that messages from people you know are genuine, and to be especially careful of messages from people you do not know.