Copernic’s Search Desktop Goes Live

Copernic has today released its Desktop Search program, the latest addition to the harvest of desktop indexing software we’ve been cataloging in recent months.

The press release says the software can “search your hard drive in less than a second to pinpoint the right picture, email, music file, etc.” while “your computer won’t slow down at all”. You also “don’t have to worry about bugs, spyware, ads” and, most importantly for some, you won’t have to pay for it.

Copernic Search Desktop “has been designed primarily for desktop search beginners, who will appreciate the care, thought, and hundreds of hours that have gone into the simplified user interface design. Advanced users will want to check out the wide array of customizable search features.”

I tried out a beta version a few weeks back and was impressed. Copernic have had some great products in their time, although Google rather took the sting out of their main search program. I felt the interface for the version I tried did not make the best use of space and wasn’t quite up to their usual standards. Copernic took the suggestions gracefully and have promised changes in future versions. Definitely worth checking out.

Spyware? Not My Problem, Says Business

Maybe the problem of Internet security isn’t educating users to be more vigilant, it’s about persuading companies that there is a problem.

A survey (PDF file) released today by California-based Secure Computing Corporation found that that “only 25 percent of businesses recognized spyware as a major problem”. This despite studies that show spyware is a problem: A study by EarthLink, for example, showed that the average PC has 28 spyware programs, while a report by Dell found that spyware accounts for 12 percent of all PC desktop support calls. Today’s survey, meanwhile, reported that 70 percent of respondents saw spyware as either no problem or a minor problem.

The same with file-sharing: 90 percent of businesses saw file-sharing software as not a major problem, and a surprising 40 percent saw it as “no problem.” Same results with instant messaging and personal e-mail accounts 90 percent saw IM as no problem or a minor problem, and 80 percent felt personal e-mail accounts were no problem or a minor problem.

(I tend to see IM and personal email as not so much a security problem as a productivity one, and even then it depends what they’re doing on it. IM can be an excellent way to share information that benefits the user professionally, as can email. But there do need to be security safeguards in place.)

Anyways, it does seem pretty shocking that companies still don’t understand the dangers of spyware. Maybe when more targeted spyware brings a rival company to its knees through massive corporate data loss, espionage or draining its accounts they’ll take more notice.

Another Incentive To Leave The Office

I’m a big fan of AlphaSmart’s range of portable writing devices, which are aimed at students but are good for anyone with itchy feet who does a lot of typing and needs a device with a good keyboard, screen and battery life.

After the Dana, the Dana Wireless and the AlphaSmart 3000, the company has just launched another model which takes the thing a step or two further: the Neo, which has the same full-size keyboard but tackles a shortcoming or two in it predecessors — screen size and memory.

The Neo now has a much larger screen than its predecessors and twice as much memory (512 KB, which doesn’t sound much, but is enough for “hundreds of pages of single-spaced text”. The Neo can communicate with both Macs and Windows and costs $250. Pricey, I guess, for something that’s just a word processor, but these devices have their place, and I’d argue that’s not just the classroom. You can take them on weekend trips for when the muse strikes, on flights when you can’t be bothered firing up a laptop, or even to company meetings to take notes when a PDA+keyboard is too fiddly and the laptop too intrusive.

The Sims 2 – A Reality Show For Your PC

The Sims, Maxis’ game in which you guide a virtual version of yourself through life on your PC, holds something of a mirror up to our own existence. Not that it’s particularly pretty.

The second version of The Sims, due in stores by September 17th, has some new features, including genetics and the ability to see and film your virtual life. It’s the ultimate reality show: A virtual person in a virtual world, being filmed by virtual cameras to be shown to an audience of real people.

Like all good sitcoms, you have to choose one of five aspirations — Popularity, Fortune, Family, Knowledge, and Romance (no mix and match allowed) — which will in turn “cause your Sims to have wants and fears — Will you give your Sims a long successful existence or leave their life in shambles?” Good question.

But as in our own lives, the Sims are nailing down as many of the variables as they can. In The Sims 2 you can “direct your Sims through a lifetime and determine their evolution as they pass on genetic traits from one generation to the next”. Sims now “have DNA and inherit physical characteristics and personality traits. They both resemble and behave like their ancestors. Direct your Sims from infancy through childhood, teenage life, and adulthood. Take them through an infinite number of generations and evolve your Sims family tree.”

All this raises intriguing questions, such as do we play games like this to escape our lives, improve on them, or try to reflect them as closely as possible? Clearly the answer is easier for The Sims Online, where most people go to make out virtually with other people. There is an element of that in The Sims, but I’m not sure it’s the only motivation. The Sims 2 will sell for $50.

Phishing Becomes A Commodity

Interesting to see how phishing has become a threat in its own right, along with viruses and spam, and is becoming part and parcel of ‘security solutions’ offered by the Internet messaging industry.

Take MailFrontier, for example, the Palo Alto-based “pioneer in email security and leading provider of anti-spam solutions” who today announced , today announced its MailFrontier Appliance, which delivers “the industry’s leading email security solution in an optimized, turn-key deployable format”.

The appliance not only promises to block, detect and eliminate 98% of spam, viruses and policy violations, but also includes “patent-pending anti-phishing technology that uniquely identifies and quarantines phishing emails, protecting organizations from these growing email threats”, as well as protection against what it calls “infrastructure attacks” — meaning Denial of Service attacks and directory harvesting. MailFrontier Appliances are enterprise grade and aimed at organizations with more than 1,000 users; pricing starts at $35,000.

Another Challenger to MS Office… From India

A small Indian software company based in Chennai is taking on the big boys.

Tropical Software announced yesterday it has introduced the OfficeMate software suite, “that provides word-processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation capabilities similar to the Microsoft Office, for the Windows platform”. The cost: $50.

The software is actually already in use in India, the company says, and is now launching a trial version in Arabic for the Middle East market. The software apparently includes the ability to maintain “a web based appointment calender, which can be used with mobile phones to deliver details of the users appointment, such as Appointment time, contact name, phone number, address and directions so that users can be alerted via SMS for their upcoming appointments.”

The only problem: I can’t yet find any website for the company involved, but I’m asking for one. I’ll get back to you with more information once I get it.

This week’s column – Beat the bugs

This week’s Loose Wire column is about cleaning viruses:

IF YOUR COMPUTER is infected by a virus, Trojan, worm or some other nasty slice of code, never fear: Worst comes to worst, you can call on a 60-year-old retired Australian lab technician who goes by the on-line nickname of Pancake.

Though he wouldn’t put it this way himself, Ed Figg (his real name) is living proof of the failure of anti-virus companies, firewall manufacturers and Microsoft to keep us safe from viruses. Given that we each spend about $100 a year for software to protect our computers, you’d think that would leave us safe. But no. Ed the Pancake, and dozens like him, spend up to eight hours a day on-line as unpaid experts helping other users with problems–most of them viruses that have slipped past their computer’s defences. So what should you do if you think it’s happened to you?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription also required). Old columns at feer.com here.

Should eBay Stop Sending Emails Altogether?

Does there come a point in the phishing-dominated world where folk like eBay should just stop sending out emails, and tell customers that’s what they’re doing?

I got an email from eBay this morning. I don’t remember getting one before, but I may have, or else my spam filter discarded it. It sure looked like spam: using my customer sign-on name, it was called ‘eBay’s Top 10 Best Buys’. The email itself had lots of graphics and looked so genuine (including a note on learning more to protect yourself from spoof emails) it could have been a phish.

Actually, it was genuine, but how are we to know? Maybe phishers are just getting smarter, and sending us emails that appear not to be asking for our details anymore. But what would happen if I visited the site and was then asked to sign in to see ‘my customized search options’ (just as a link on the real website asks me too)? Wouldn’t the phisher have achieved the same objective?

Another oddity I noticed: A lot of the images that load on the real website come from a domain called ebaystatic.com, which it’s not possible to access independently. So how are we to verify that the date being loaded comes from a genuine source? Wouldn’t this be perfect for a Multiple Browsers Frame Injection Vulnerability, a fancy term for slipping a fake site into a real one via browser frames.

I don’t know whether eBay and its ilk should just stop sending out emails altogether, so it can tell customers never to trust something that says it’s from eBay. Maybe that’s impossible. But I’m willing to put money on the notion that phishers will get more sophisticated, and it won’t take them long to figure out that more subtle methods are required to lure victims into giving up their details, and the best way to do that would be to offer them special deals from a source they trust. Like, say, eBay.

Microsoft, Pirates Keys and SP2

There seems to be some confusion about who will be able to install the Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) so I thought I would get it from the horse’s mouth. Microsoft hasn’t done itself any favours by backtracking on public statements, but here for what it’s worth is their official position as of today:

We expect that nearly all Windows XP users, running genuine or pirated Windows, will have access to the security technologies in SP2. The same customers that were blocked from installing SP1 – those that have used a small set of legacy pirated product keys – will be blocked from installing SP2.

The same customers that were blocked from installing SP1 – those that have used a small set of legacy pirated product keys – will be blocked from installing SP2. Although SP2 checks for the legacy pirated product keys that SP1 checked for, we are not expanding the list with this release, and most of the pirated keys it checks for are no longer being used. We want to make sure that the broadest number of people has access to SP2. The nature of malicious attacks on computer users is constantly changing and we will continue to evaluate how we deal with security updates for pirated versions of Windows to best protect our genuine Windows customers.

So now you know. I asked for a bit more detail on these pirate product keys, and while I don’t have a list, Microsoft has this to say:

There is a set of legacy pirated product keys that was blocked for installation of XP SP1. These keys have been blocked from service packs and Windows Update for many years and we believe are no longer being used by pirates. Users with the legacy pirated product keys who attempt to access Windows Update to get SP2 continue to be notified that they cannot access Windows Update and [are] provided similar information via the “How to Tell”.

Finally, when can we expect SP2?

Microsoft Windows XP SP2 has been rolled-out-to-manufacturing (RTM) and will be localized into 25 different languages over the next two months and distributed to system manufacturers, enterprise customers and consumers through downloads, retail distribution, free CDs, and on new PCs. The easiest way for most customers to ensure they receive SP2 when it releases in their language is through enabling the Automatic Updates (AU) feature in Windows XP today. Customers who enable AU now will receive the latest security updates for Windows XP along with updated installation software that will optimize the download experience of SP2 and all other updates to Windows XP. We expect to roll out SP2 through AU to approximately 100 million over the next two months.

OK, so now you really do know.

The Klip Marches On

Serence, the company behind the RSS-like Klip, is about to launch a new version, which offers some interesting new features that could well give the standard a bit more edge in the face of the RSS revolution. Indeed, given that practically any RSS or Atom feed can be read in Klip form, one could argue that Klips are just a better way to read RSS. (Here’s an earlier posting on Klips.)

KlipFolio version 2.6, to be launched today (no URL available at time of writing), will include the following new features (I’m quoting from an email from Serence’s Allan Wille here):

  • Networked and Local Data Access. A Klip can monitor an accounting database over a local network for changes, a shared network directory for updates, a remote directory via FTP, and a POP3 server for new email.
  • Real-Time Push. Klips can now receive updates via a real-time push from a remote server.  Real-Time push is vital for weather warnings, earnings alerts, stock trades, sports scores or any type of live-data. KlipFolio is now able to handle both push and pull depending on application.
  • New Mini-Toolbar. KlipFolio’s L-shaped Toolbar can now be collapsed to a small square … less intrusive and more flexible when placing it on the desktop.
  • New Klips. In concert with KlipFolio 2.6 comes a Hotmail inbox watcher, a POP3 email monitor, an FTP directory Klip and a Klip to keep an eye on local or remote file folders.

What does all this mean? Well, I guess Serence sees Klips as more flexible than RSS and other kinds of feeds, as well as being more secure. The press release, for example, portrays KlipFolio as “a world leader accessing and monitoring networked or local data-sources or applications” where “unlike other news and information monitoring applications that are limited to specific data formats, KlipFolio is an open platform that is extensible through thousands of pluggable, task-specific information services called Klips”.

This extensibility is backed up by what Serence bills as a as “Enhanced Security Model”, where “Serence can now certify and digitally sign Klips to enable advanced functionality … to prevent tampering by 3rd parties and provide end users with increased security.” So anyone can make a Klip but for them to be ‘official’ Serence would have to review them before any “digital signing”.

All this makes sense, although I can hear some folk complaining about the idea that the manufacturer of the software positioning itself as the authenticator of Klips. But so long as RSS feeds are easily absorbed into the KlipFolio world I can only see good things happening for both formats if a company like Serence is trying out new ways of pushing and pulling different kinds of data to the desktop.