Tag Archives: browser

The Browser Doesn’t Matter So Long As It Goes to Google

The whole Google/Firefox issue is an interesting one: Google is the default search engine in Firefox because it pays to be there. The three-year deal expired in November 2011. Would they renew? Some thought no. They were wrong.

Not only has Google renewed the deal whereby it effectively bankrolls Firefox, but it’s the first time that it’s continued the deal after launching its own browser, and the first time it’s done so after Chrome is actually has as many users, according to some measures, as Firefox.

On top of that, there are reports from AllThingsD that the deal is worth $300 million a year, more than three times what they were paying under the previous arrangement. What gives?

Several theories:

We’re Partners

The official version is that Google and Firefox are buddies, after the same thing: the betterment of the web [ReadWriteWeb].

Bidding War

One is that Microsoft and possibly Yahoo! were after the deal. Makes sense: Microsoft is desperate to gain market share for bing, while Yahoo! is, well, desperate.

Eyeballs

Another theory has it that Google is basically after eyeballs, and doesn’t care how it gets them. Paying for them by getting to be the default search brings oodles of traffic. This is definitely true. I reckon that Firefox had as many as 500 million users in 2010. If 90% of those users don’t switch their default search that’s worth a lot of money to Google, and as ExtremeTech has pointed out, makes Firefox the biggest single source of traffic to Google (I calculate they paid 20 cents per user, whether or not they actually use Google.)

Antitrust

There are other theories. One is that Google is worried about antitrust issues [David Ulevitch, Twitter feed, via paris lemon] and therefore wants there to be a competitor about. This argument has some merit: expect Google Chrome/Chrome OS and Android to converge more and more, which is bound to attract the attention of regulators.

There’s no question that Google benefits any which way this goes.

  • It’s clear that Microsoft has failed to dislodge Google as the search engine of choice: While its market share in the U.S. is around 15% [WinRumors, quoting comScore] globally it’s tiny: less than 4% on desktop browsers, 1% on mobile devices [both from NetMarketShare]. In other words, Google doesn’t need to worry that Internet Explorer shifting traffic to bing. While in decline IE is still the most popular browser at about 40% [StatCounter].
  • Google doesn’t really care what browser people use. It would prefer they use Chrome, but as long as the browser points to Google, who cares (as Deng Xiao Ping said, who cares what colour the cat is, as long as it catches mice?). Which is why Google are just as happy to do a deal with Apple (6%) and with Opera (2%). In fact, the only browser that doesn’t have Google as its default search engine is IE. (Apple talked about cutting a deal with Microsoft last year [Daring Fireball], but it was probably a negotiating tactic. DF says he reckons the Google/Safari deal was worth $2 million a month.

Finally, then, if the new figures are true–that Google is now paying $300 million a year for the Firefox traffic–is that money well spent? Well, it’s not easy to calculate. But let’s assume that Firefox traffic continues to fall at its present rate. So in 2012 it accounts for only 21% of the market. Likely number of Internet users in 2012? Anyone’s guess, but probably about 2.4 billion? (It was 2.1 billion in March 2011, according to Internet World Stats.)

So Firefox potentially should be able to bring at least 440 million users to the table. So that’s $0.68 per user. Quite a bit more than what it’s currently shelling out–but less than what it’s paying Opera, according to my very rough calculations. Opera said it received $41 in ‘Desktop revenue’, the bulk of which it says comes from ‘search and commerce’. Assuming all of that, for the sake of argument, is money from Google for search, then using their official figure of 51 million desktop users in 2010, Opera was getting $0.80 per user from Google. (I realise that might be inflated given the ‘commerce’ component.)

That would seem to suggest that actually Google was getting users from Firefox pretty cheaply. Even if my calculations for Opera are a tad high, the new deal with Google, valuing a user at about 65 cents, doesn’t seem overly expensive. We don’t know how much Google pays Apple, but the $2 million a month means they’re the cheapest on the block, costing $0.15 per user according to back of the envelope calculations.

Indeed, these are all just back of the envelope calculations, but I reckon they offer a bit of insight into the economics of this part of the game. Remember Google made $9.72 billion in the last quarter [Google corporate pages], and paid out $383 million to “certain distribution partners and others who direct traffic to our website” in that quarter. That’s close to $1.6 billion over a year, putting the $300 million it’s reputed to be committed to paying Firefox every year in perspective.)

A good account of the economics of all this can be found at ExtremeTech.

The Pitfalls of Facebook

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Facebook just grew up and gave some of its users a shock they probably deserve. You might even have been one of them.

You may have received a message from a friend already on Facebook; something that doesn’t sound like them, but hey, they might have been out partying when they wrote it:

“have you heard about that blog that was about you? apparently it’s pretty bad,” it will say. “I think you and everyone should read it..” And then there’s a link.

Click on the link and you’d be taken—if you’re unlucky, and haven’t upgraded your browser recently–to a website that looks a lot like a Facebook login page.

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If you’re wary, you won’t have gotten this far, because your browser—assuming you’re using one of the more recent versions–will have flashed a warning that you’re trying to visit a dodgy site. That’s because the site itself is not Facebook.com, but Facelibook.com—a website hosted in China.

What will happen then, if you don’t notice those extra two letters hiding in the website name and enter your name and password, is that you’ll be “phished”—in other words, your password and username will now be known by someone else. Someone else who won’t necessarily be a pal.

Phishing has been around for a few years, and sadly we’re still falling victim to it. It’s simple really: A bad guy uses whatever tricks he can—technology, our gullibility, simply looking over our shoulders—to steal our passwords, and then uses that access to either empty our bank accounts or pretend to be us.

In this case, they use the Facebook account to send more messages to other people. You see, the thing about Facebook is that it’s a trusted area. All the people we get messages from are people we trust, people we know, so what better way to lure people into a trap than to send messages so they look as if they’re from someone we know?

Giving someone access to your Facebook account is not a good thing, of course. They can not only send out creepy messages that compromise your friends (and endanger your friendships) but they’ll also have access to whatever information you’ve stored in your Facebook account: your previous jobs, your interests and your address for starters. That’s enough for them to steal your identity.

But that’s not all the Facebook thing does. I’m not quite clear whether these two attacks are the same, but they may well be: The hijacked accounts, I’m told, will now send out a slightly different message this time, along the lines of “You’ve been caught on hidden cam, yo” (“cam” is short for camera, for those of you not up with the lingo. “Yo” is a term of endearment reserved for the hip and would-be hip).

Click on this particular link and worse things happen. You’re told your version of Flash player is out of date—a normal enough message, as Flash players are programs used to play animated content in your browser—and then you’re instructed to download and install an update, a piece of software called codecsetup.exe. Agree and you’ll be treated to a video of a laughing clown as, behind the scenes, a piece of malware—or software with bad intentions—is downloaded to your computer.

You won’t necessarily be any the wiser. Your computer will continue to function. Only it will also have been infected with a virus, which could do any number of things, from reporting back home all your passwords, to turning your computer into a zombie in a botnet. (Zombies are computers that can be controlled remotely, and a botnet is network of hundreds, maybe thousands, of compromised computers which can be used to send spam or launch other computer-borne attacks.)

None of this is good for you. If you’re infected by this kind of virus, you need to disinfect, and that may require a professional. If you think you might be infected, first run a check on your computer with something like Housecall from TrendMicro (housecall.trendmicro.com).

Earlier in August Facebook itself reported that a small percentage of users were infected by this virus; the trouble is that a small percentage of all the millions of Facebookers is still hundreds of users. As Avi Dardik of antivirus company Yoggie Security Systems puts it, users are lulled into making a false step through a gradual series of moves: “Notice how sophisticated this series is–the user is essentially drugged to sleep in several steps,” he says.

The simple lesson from this is that Facebook—and other social networking sites—are becoming popular enough to entice the bad guys into coming up with ways to attack us. Now there are enough of us on these sites to make it worth their while. So we need to be careful clicking on links—as careful as when we open an ordinary email. Remember: Just  because it’s from a friend doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Needless to say, make sure you’ve got antivirus software on your computer, and make sure it’s up to date. Also, make sure your browsers and operating system are up to date too: Antivirus alone is not enough to protect you. (I would recommend the latest version of the Firefox browser, but if you insist on using Internet Explorer, do make sure it’s the latest version.)

Here’s another way to play safe if you’re using Windows XP. Vista—the new version of Windows—plugs this hole by default, but the older version, XP, allows users to run their computer as an administrator. This means you can do anything—install software, change important settings, etc—which is good, but dangerous, because it means anything that can insinuate itself onto your computer can do the same thing.

This might be possible even just visiting a website—you don’t have to actively download or install anything—so it makes browsing potentially lethal. Better to forego those administrative privileges and play safe. The problem is you’ll have to switch back and forth between administrator and ordinary user should you want to install legitimate software, or change the settings on your computer.

Here’s a simple enough way round this: This link–http://is.gd/1JR6—will take you to a step-by-step guide I’ve written to surfing without administrative rights, while keeping those rights for everything else you do. That adds another layer of security that would save you from the kind of scary stuff I’ve been talking about. I’d recommend you do it right now.

Final word: Facebook et al are great playgrounds to mess around with your friends. But it’s not a bouncy castle: You can still hurt yourself.

Spread Yourself About

Loose Wire Service

Spread Yourself About

By Jeremy Wagstaff

You may only ever work and play on one computer, in which case you can skip this column and let’s chat again next week.

But if you find yourself using more than one—maybe one at work, one at home, or maybe you’re sharing several with family members, or, like me, you’ve decided to go for a slightly lighter model to lug around with you and leave that misnomer of a ‘notebook’ at home—you’ll have come across the same frustration as I, at one time or another: not having the files, passwords or bookmarks you want on the computer in front of you.

Here are some tips to avoid that. They’re not particularly fancy, but they’re free, so you can’t accuse me of trying to drain your budget.

First off, the biggest nuisance is browsing. I have spent quite a bit of time setting up my browser as I want it—fonts, bookmarks, and a few other bits and bobs to make moving around my favorite sites as painless as possible. I also use Firefox, a free, Open Source browser that is, in my view, streets ahead of either Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari. (It’s also better than Opera, a great little browser that my wife refuses to give up.) But the trouble is that the more you customize your browser, the more you’ll miss those tweaks when you’re on another computer.

But so long as you use Firefox, and so long as you have a Google account, this needn’t be an issue; an excellent little tool called Google Browser Sync (http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/browsersync/) will synchronize your bookmarks, saved passwords and other settings between any computers you install the tool on. Install it and you’ll see a little logo in the top right hand corner of your browser which will figure out what you’ve done and move it all over to whatever computer you work on next.

When it comes to files however, it’s trickier. If you’ve been working on a document on one computer, and you want to transfer it to another, you can always burn it to a CD or put it on a flash USB drive. Or you could email it to yourself. But there is another way that saves you having to do anything.

A free Microsoft service called FolderShare (www.foldershare.com) that works on both Windows and Mac computers allows you to do several useful things: Firstly, it will synchronize certain folders on each of your computers so any file changed or added on one computer will appear on all the others (assuming, of course, you have an Internet connection.)

It will also allow you to share the files on your computer with other people you’ve chosen to share the files with. And then, finally, and perhaps most usefully, you can access your computer at home or work, or wherever you’re not, via any web browser. And did I mention it’s now free?

FolderShare isn’t beautiful to look at, and not particularly intuitive to set up, but once it’s running it works like magic. And if you’ve got a relatively fast Internet connection the files are synchronized within seconds of any changes you make.

FolderShare doesn’t work from a mobile phone. And, frankly, I can’t see people needing to access their files from their phone as much as from a computer. But if you need to, there’s a service called soonr (soonr.com) which allows you to do just that.

Soonr seems to have lots of potential and while I’ve been able to play with a private beta version of their service, it’s not publicly available so I won’t bother you with it. Suffice to say FolderShare is good enough unless your cellphone has already taken over from your laptop as your primary device.

There are other ways of accessing your files from any computer. One is to use services like Google Docs, where your files aren’t stored on any of your computers; instead they’re stored online. If you’ve got an Internet connection wherever your computers are, then these tools might be enough for simple word processing, spreadsheets and what-have-you.

Of course, they’re particularly useful if you’re working with other people on documents; having them online will save you lots of emailing and figuring out which is the latest version. If you find Google Docs’ spreadsheet application a tad limiting, try eXpresso, a plug-in for Microsoft Excel that allows you to upload your spreadsheets to the company’s server and then work with them alone, or together, online from anywhere. (You need to already have a Microsoft Excel license to use this service, but that doesn’t mean you need to install the program on all the computers you use eXpresso on. For more details check out their website: http://tinyurl.com/29mfkj.)

Another, newly launched option, is Microsoft Office Live. I haven’t had time to explore it thoroughly, but, in theory,

It goes without saying that you want to be extra careful about a couple of things when you’re working on more than one computer. Make sure you don’t use any of these services on any computer if other people you don’t know or trust might have access to that computer. Indeed, don’t access, open or download any file on a public computer that you wouldn’t want someone else to read, because files are not easy things to delete. Unless you don’t want to delete them, of course: Make sure you make regular backups of any files you are moving between computers because one day you might get confused and overwrite one you really need.

That said, having your files and familiar browser settings available where you happen to be is a liberating experience I’d heartily recommend.

Jeremy Wagstaff writes for The Wall Street Journal Asia and the BBC World Service. His guide to technology, “Loose Wire”, is available in bookshops or on Amazon. He can be found online at jeremywagstaff.com or via email at jeremy@loose-wire.com.