Tag Archives: software

The Perils Of Anti-Spyware

Further to an earlier post about whether you could trust a software provider enough to buy anti-keylogging and anti-spyware programs from them if they also sold spyware and keyloggers, here’s an interesting list from Spyware Warrior: programs that claim to be spyware removers but in fact install spyware.

Most of these have a commercial bent, but it’s not too far-fetched to wonder whether such programs could not become the vehicles of choice for folk with more criminal intent, stealing passwords or other personal data from your computer. Indeed, according to this posting, expired website domains of legitimate anti-spy software are sometimes taken over and then used to pedal spyware or dialers (programs that make your computer phone overseas to expensive services).

The bottom line: Be very careful what programs you install on your computer. And nowadays that doesn’t just mean dodgy ‘free’ programs, but even programs that claim to do serious things, like remove spyware. If in doubt, check the company’s homepage, then their Registration information, and then do a Google search of the software’s name to see whether other folk are complaining about it. Then decide whether you want to install it.

Why Real Player Is Really, Really Unpleasant

Interesting post, and subsequent discussion, at Tomas Jogin’s blog, on the Real Player — which does streaming audio and video, and was once the bee’s knees.

Now it ain’t so, mainly because of its very invasive way of installing itself on your computer, and then being very, very hard to get rid of. I’ve hated the way it throws little messages at you and installs a little reminder program called, of all things, TkBell.exe, in your start-up queue, if you ever make the mistake of launching it.

But what’s most interesting are the responses from some anonymous folk inside the company. As an outsider you tend to think a software company wants to win over users, not upset them, but while that’s true, not everyone in the company may agree on how to do that. So you end up with developers trying to create great products, marketing folk trying to grab eyeballs — or hits, or subscriptions, or whatever — and the management, who want to get their IPO and mansions. The result: A once great program, trampled by people who have no idea how they’re alienating folk to not only their product, but the Internet, software, music, and anything with the word ‘Real’ before it (with the possible exception of Madrid.)

That’s a good lesson for all of us. I guess a lot of us seem to see corporations as either cool or evil. I have renewed respect for those cool people doing their best in organisations dominated by greedy idiots who probably never have, themselves, had to install the products they sell.

Another Popup Blocker, But This Time From Minsk

Here’s a new version of another program designed to block popup ads, but which also performs the (admittedly increasingly common) trick of opening multiple browser windows at once. It’s called AdsCleaner.

I haven’t tried it, but I do like the honest PR release, just out, so I am going to quote: “New version features optimized process of ads blocking that has greatly influenced the operating speed. In opinion of AdsCleaner users, deceleration during the process of ad blocking was, perhaps, the main inconvenience peculiar to the early versions of the application. Now this inconvenience is eliminated.” I wish other companies were so honest.

AdsCleaner 2.0 cost $20. It is developed by SoftInform, which sounds like a computer division of the KGB. Which turns out not to be too far from the truth: As with a lot of these smaller software companies, it’s dang hard to find out where they’re based, which is a shame, because there’s nothing wrong with coming from places like Minsk in Belarus. Which is where I think SoftInform comes from.

More On Camera Phones As Bar Scanners

Here’s more on a subject I looked at in December (and then promptly forgot about): Using your camera phone as a bar code scanner. Wired says there are at least four software companies that have released applications that let you take a photo of a bar code, which will then trigger the download of coupons, reviews and other information about that product.

Not a bad idea. As the article points out, most phones have inbuilt browsers, so in theory it’s possible to check out competing prices and more information about a product you’re looking at. But who actually does that?

This is what the folk at trendwatching.com call SEE-HEAR-BUY: “the capability to buy everything you see or hear, wherever you are.”

Wired also takes a glimpse at the bit that worries me: The destruction of the small time retailer. If people are just wandering into shops, taking a snap of a product and then wandering off again, how helpful is that going to be to their business? Either they ban camera phones in their shops, or they try to find a way to make it work for them, perhaps by creating ways to make alternative recommendations for a product the customer is viewing. And of course, the edge the bricks and mortar folk have always had: Their extensive knowledge, onsite, online and delivered in human packaging.

Some (Not So) Light Reading

For those of you easing back into work after the holidays, or stuck in the office before the New Year partying begins, here are some suggestions for Internet reading.

The future of Microsoft: Is 2004 going to be Redmond’s swansong? Some people think so, including The Inquirer, which says that the company’s flat first quarter earnings are a sign “it is running low on wiggle room, the core customers are negotiating hard, and Microsoft is giving way”. Interesting, if somewhat aggressive, reading. For the usual Slashdot discussion of the topic, go here. Certainly it’s going to be a difficult year for Microsoft, and one way the company may go is to try to further lock in users to its formats — Word, audio, Excel, whatever — and to lock other software companies out.

That’s also the tack that veteran commentator Steve Gillmor believes Apple is taking with its iPod. He points out that what was once a MP3 player is now threatening to be a lot more than that, from a PDA to a video device (to a handphone, as well). But Gillmor also points out that this is part of a bigger battle to try to establish one kind of Digital Rights Management over another. (This basically is a legal and software trick that limits your freedom to copy or alter files, whether they’re music, words or pictures. Say your version of Microsoft Word supported DRM, you may find yourself unable, say, to copy a document you’re viewing, or to save it in another format, or, more insidiously, unable to access a Word document composed in a non-Microsoft program, say, Open Office. DRM effectively removes the kind of supremacy you’ve enjoyed over what you own: In music, for example, DRM would mean you rent rather than own your CD collection.)

Gillmor discusses Apple’s approach, which is slightly different, but with seemingly similar goals: To lock the consumer into using a proprietary format. I think consumers will — and should — fight any attempt to limit access to their files, whether they be music, words, pictures or movies, tooth and nail. Legitimate fears of piracy and security should not allow any corporation to dictate the size or make of wall protecting us (look at e-voting for the lessons we should learn on that.). This year will define where we go on this issue. Or as Mr Gillmor says: “With the election looming as a referendum on issues of security, rights and opportunity, and the Internet emerging as a major player for the first time, DRM may be democracy’s Last Waltz.”

Zone Labs Snapped Up – Firewalls R Us?

My favourite firewall, Zone Alarm, is being bought by another firewall maker, Check Point Software Technologies [CNet News.com].

It looks to me as if there’s quite significant consolidation within the security software industry, not just from the point of view of big guys buying the smaller guys, but of companies trying to create products that offer an all-round ‘security solution’. Symantec have long peddled this type of idea, but their 2004 embodiments have increased the coverage to include cutting out spam, spyware and even pop-ups. With Check Point focusing on server-side software it makes sense that they grab Zone Labs, whose strength is software for desktops and notebooks.

Expect to see software companies trying to push more integrated software that offers this kind of overall solution to corporates and to ISPs. While it obviously makes sense for companies to farm out these kind of problems — viruses, spam, any kind of disrupting influence on their networks — to single companies. Internet Service Providers will doubtless see a market to sell something similar to the individual user, keeping such rubbish out of their inbox and away from other subscribers.

My only worry is that such ‘packaged solutions’ may not offer the best individual component: Just because a company makes all the products you need, doesn’t mean they’re all great. I use Norton Antivirus but stick with Zone Alarm because it tells me more about what’s going on.

Use Your Phone As A Barcode Scanner

infoSync World reports of new software that allows camera phone users to take a picture of a barcode and then, say, retrieve information about the product: whether it’s cheaper elsewhere, dietary information, or downloading music samples from a poster advertising a new album.

The product, ScanZoom, is made by US-based software company Scanbuy. The article points out that a similar technology is already available in Japan, where phones can recognize e-mail addresses, web site URLs and telephone numbers through their embedded cameras.

Update: Microsoft Goes Soft in Thailand

 It’d be too much to suggest that Bill Gates reads my column, but Microsoft seem to be buying my idea (well not mine, really) that prices of their software should be geared to what local people can afford. IDG News Service’s Taipei Bureau reports that the US software company has cut the price of its Windows operating system and Office application suite in Thailand. Quoting a report released by market analyst Gartner Inc (it’s an Acrobat PDF file) Microsoft has reduced the cost of an Office and Windows package there for $40 and may do the same thing in China.
 
The move seems to be in the face of a government program which ended up selecting Red Hat Inc.’s Linux operating system and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice productivity suite when Microsoft did not at first participate. Windows XP in the U.S. sells for between $85 and $130, IDG says, while Office XP Professional sells for about $250.
 
All this can only be good news, and bad news — eventually — for pirates.
 
 

Less Features, Less Bugs Please

 From the It’s About Time Someone’s Talking Sense Dept comes an interesting column by Sean Ammirati the founder and director of Avanti Strategies, who points out that in software, as in most things, less is more (and whose web site seems to take the concept to its furthest practical point).
 
 
Writing in InformationWeek he says that “although software companies would hate to admit it, most people don’t use all the features of their products.” Exactly. What wouldn’t users like me give to have a new version of a program with less features, and less bugs? It’s time for another column ranting about the ridiculous bugs of programs like Microsoft Encarta, Money and Office that somehow survive from version to version.