The Brits And Storage

The Brits have succeeded in squeezing a terabyte onto a DVD disk, 10 times what the BluRay disks can  currently hold and 50 times the capacity of a double-sided, double-layed DVD.

Nature reports that the disk is called MODS, for Multiplexed Optical Data Storage, and could potentially contain 472 hours of video footage – equivalent to a terabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes, of data. It’s been developed by a team led by Peter Török of Imperial College London.

But there’s a problem: So far the researchers can’t retrieve information from their disk fast enough for video footage. It also won’t be around any time soon: Török believes that MODS disks could hit the shops between 2010 and 2015. And it will be too expensive for the layman, so MODS is more likely to be used by libraries or software companies looking for ways to marshal their huge amounts of data. “The British Library could put all their microfiches onto disks,” Török is quoted as saying. “It will be very good for archiving.”

Mind you, people said that about storage before. By then I’m guessing a terabyte on a DVD is not going to seem all that surprising, or all that expensive.

Another Indexing Program…

Further in my pursuit of the perfect search and indexing software, Sean Franzen points me to Vancouver-based Wisetech Software and their Archivarius 3000 which, he says, “recognizes more file formats than DiskMeta, allows you to index data on network drives and locate your indexes on network drives. The price is very competitive also. Development has been very active for the past six months.”

It looks interesting and worth checking out. On initial glance it lacks the thing I love most about X1, Enfish and the others: a preview pane built in that lets you view the whole file, not just the context of the found string. Archivarious costs between $20 and $45, depending on whether you’re a student, and individual or a commercial entity.

Internet Explorer Euthanasia

Is Microsoft intentionally allowing Internet Explorer to die?

It’s not brand-spanking new as an idea, but that’s the suggestion (I’m guessing the URL; it’s not posted on the website yet) of Dana Blankenhorn, who writes a newsletter called A-Clue.com. In it he writes:

Microsoft is deliberately letting Internet Explorer lose the browser market to Mozilla’s Firefox. Microsoft won’t admit this publicly but it makes sense. The company hasn’t had a major upgrade to the program in years. It was relatively trivial for Mozilla, descended ultimately from Netscape, to match those features, even go slightly beyond them.

Blankenhorn says Microsoft is sick of fixing bugs for software that has no business model. Instead, he says, Microsoft is putting its money into applications like its Media Player. “There are business models that can be built around Media Player. You can sell content through that conduit. Until someone creates a business model around browser dominance Explorer is dead.”

An interesting view. No one is quite sure whether IE is actually dead or dominant. Lance Ulanoff says the former, John Dvorak the latter. In the forums one reader makes an interesting point: You can no longer download a full version of IE anymore from Microsoft’s website. This is presumably because of Microsoft’s decision a year ago not to issue further ‘standalone versions’ of IE after IE SP1.

Although things have changed a bit since then — security is now a priority, for example — I think this is probably where the truth lies. Microsoft may believe that developing a browser for its own sake is a waste of time, so long as you can control the other applications users work in. So if you’re using Microsoft Office, for example, better to keep the user inside one of those programs when they search the Internet by building the Research Pane, a window that has browser like features and functions but keeps the user inside a Microsoft product. If you do that, who needs a browser, or rather, who cares what the user does in a browser?

I’m guessing here, but if I was Microsoft, I wouldn’t care too much about numbers. Who needs to ensure everybody is using IE if all they’re doing is surfing for porn? Better to lock in the high-paying customers who might use online databases, for example, by keeping them in Office, or Outlook, or OneNote, or whatever. This is why I think you’re seeing more and more add-in toolbars for products like Outlook. The less people have to use a browser, the less steps they have to take to get information, and the more control you have over whether they go.

This may be one reason why Google is developing its own browser, if the rumours are true. Google relies on the browser more than any other company and presumably doesn’t want to find its business model made irrelevant for these in-program searches. Google needs eyeballs, and so needs to control the program and context of its users. Blankenhorn may well be right. The browser battle just may not be a battle Microsoft thinks is worth winning, because they see the war has moved elsewhere: to the in-program toolbar or research pane.

Wifi For The (Dialup) Masses

You’d think that dial-up Internet access is not the stuff of sexy business models. Not so.

Always On Wireless is about to launch the Always On WiFlyer, an 802.11b-based wireless hub that connects to a phone line and works with all the major dial-up ISPs. It is being touted as Wifi For The Masses, a term I thought we had coined in this blog for Wifi in the developing world. Still, it’s not copyright and the more the merrier.

Rudy Prince, CEO of Always On Wireless, is aiming at “both computer users who lack broadband in their homes and ‘road warriors’ who often find broadband connections unavailable when traveling. It eliminates the expense of hotel broadband connections, and is great for international travel where broadband is often more difficult to find.”

The device is smaller, according to Computer Technology’s TWICE, than a paperback book for easy travel and also has an Ethernet port, so it can turn any hotel room into an instant Wi-Fi hot spot. Cost: $150.

I actually think these ideas are great, and it’s good that people are thinking of dialup customers as well as broadband. Rudy’s right: There are a lot of folk out there who can only get dialup access all of the time, or some of the time. This would be a neat addition to their grab-bag, especially since it works with both broadband and dialup connections – especially if you’re stuck in a bad hotel room with poor access to phone sockets. I’ll take one.

A New Kind Of Anti-Spam?

Here’s a new anti-spam service which takes a somewhat different approach.

RI-based Mail Cruncher works, not by looking at content, but by rating emails according to the reliability of their sender. “In business, I decide to trust other companies based on how long they have been around, their location, who else does business with them, and their record of reliability,” a press release from the company quotes April Lorenzen, creator of the Mail Cruncher service, as saying. “We just applied the same common sense to sorting email. Our customers say it works well for them, saving time and aggravation every day.”

The Mail Cruncher email sorting service uses Outbound Index ratings exclusively to sort email. Messages with a high rating go immediately to the subscriber’s inbox. Messages with a low rating are held back. Once a day, Mail Cruncher subscribers are sent an email with a sorted, color-coded list of suspicious emails that can be scanned in seconds.

The ratings are based “principally on statistical facts such as domain age, relationships between server and domain, and sender stability”. There’s no attempt to run Bayesian filters or other approaches to measure the spamminess of an email. It’s done entirely by looking at the ‘from’ email address.

The Mail Cruncher list also groups domains, “so if a subscriber receives 17 messages from the same domain, the messages appear together for faster skimming”. It also displays the sender’s user name, such as “nwyiyvq,” is displayed, not just the often-misleading name (“Victoria”) shown by most email inboxes. Finally, a subscriber can read the text of a suspicious message safely within the Mail Cruncher environment “without triggering webbugs or attached viruses, without displaying any objectionable images that might be in spam, and without the sender knowing the email was opened”.

An actual Mail Cruncher list with the above features is demoed here. The Mail Cruncher service costs $3 per mailbox per month.

Taiwan ‘Phisher’ Arrested, May Not Be Kingpin, Beaten Up By Father

A Taiwanese teenager has been arrested for phishing, but don’t expect it to bring an end to the problem.

The China Post today reported that the 16-year old, surnamed Wu, who was studying at a south Taiwan junior college, has been charged with forgery and fraud. The paper says it’s Taiwan’s first phishing case: If convicted, he faces three to five years’ jail.

That said, it doesn’t sound like the guy is exactly the mastermind behind the Internet’s fastest growing crime: The paper quoted an officer as saying that all the boy wanted was “to appear smart. He studied a hacking manual and tried to show off his knowledge by ‘phishing’ a dozen (computer) users.” All he managed to phish were their addresses and information. The paper reported his family was not particularly proud of his alleged phishing activities:

His irate father, who knows nothing about hacking, berated and tried to beat up the boy, when arresting police officers confronted them. The youth begged for mercy, one police officer said. “He was scared to death, when he saw us,” the officer said, “and we had a hard time calming his father down.”

LookSmart Acquires Furl

This whole grab-stuff-from- the-net-and-store-it- somewhere-you-might- be-able-to-find-it thing seems to be taking off at long last.

Furl, which allows you to save clips from the Internet and store/share/access/search them easily, has just told its customers in an email (no URL available yet) that it has been bought by LookSmart, a SF-based “provider of Web search and research-quality articles”.

Furl’s Mike Giles, Founder & CEO, has assured its users that “LookSmart has no intention of changing the things that make it great. On the contrary, LookSmart is committed to making existing features even more powerful.” To sweeten the move for users, Furl is giving each 5 gigabytes of storage, and has promised that the service will remain free.

A Directory Of RSS Variants

This week’s Loose Wire column is about how to get RSS feeds without too much palaver.

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

Here’s some other stuff I wasn’t able to include in the column for reasons of space (I’ve removed the blurb, but all are worth checking out. More detailed reviews to follow). All involve feeds in some form or another, but aren’t straight standalone RSS readers, either because they’re web-based or because they do other stuff as well. Additions/corrections/opinions as welcome as ever.

How To Hoover Up Addresses

Maybe it’s just the summer heat but I get the feeling that, finally, people are focusing on software tools that really make working on a computer easier. Sure this has been the case for a while, but these companies seem to actually stick around long enough to make some money. So they have to be doing something right.

Take saving addresses, for example. It’s a simple concept: See a guy’s name and address in an email, on a website or in a document you’d like to save, and what do you have to do? Fiddly copying the text, and then, line by line, pasting it into Outlook or whatever. Yuck. It’s faster to go round to the guy’s house with your laptop, knock on his door and ask him to type in the details himself.

A few years’ back there was a great little company called Cognitive Root which had a program called Syncplicity, which tried to figure out from any text you copied what was the name, the address, the phone number etc, and copy it all into the right fields in your Palm Desktop. I raved about the product back in January 2001, which seems to have been enough to ensure it was consigned to the dot.com bin, since I can find no trace of the company or the product on any recent website. Sorry about that, guys.

Still, don’t despair: other companies have since taken up the banner. And they look like they’ll be around for a while. There’s Anagram, which does pretty much the same thing for Palm and Outlook, and, more importantly, has on its website a photo of a left-handed businesswoman not using a mousepad, chewing her glasses and staring wistfully into the middle distance having saved herself oodles of time using the product.

Then there’s AddressGrabber, which does something similar but also works with ACT!, GoldMine and stuff like that. I’ve fiddled with both AddressGrabber and Anagram and for my needs the latter works ($20) fine. But if you’re a serious address grabbing kind of dude, maybe you want to splash out ($70 to $250) for the former. Both work with salesforce.com.