Google Chrome Frame for Internet Explorer is a terrible idea

The latest numbers for web browser use show that Internet Explorer is down nearly ten more points.  Internet Explorer 6 use has waned quite a bit, but, for Google, it is not enough on both accounts.  Wanting to shore up its new web offerings and, presumably, its browser, Google has developed something called the Google Chrome Frame for Internet Explorer.  What this does is make the Chrome browser available as a plug in.  The reason, according to Google, is that they don’t want to be bothered trying to get its Google Wave to work with the industry leading browser. 

Google has made its intentions known that it wants to dethrone Microsoft…and any other company that markets desktop software and operating systems.  That includes Apple, though not right away it seems.  This very public slap in the face of Microsoft has the potential to be somewhat dangerous and confusing to IE users.  Mozilla has actually come out on Microsoft’s side, sort of.

Mozilla released several statements, all of which make more sense than what Microsoft has stated.  The Mozilla statements, from Mike Shaver and Mitchell Baker point out (and it is surprising that Microsoft did not state this) that the plug in could prevent browser features from functioning correctly.  For example, it would keep such innovations as the web accelerators and add ins that work on the content area from working.  Worse, it could prevent the security features from working.  And in IE 7 and 8, security is far better than most of the other browsers.

Microsoft, instead of pointing out what Mozilla pointed out, released a statement that just bad mouths the plug in without really saying why.  It did make one statement that made sense: "Given the security issues with plug-ins in general and Google Chrome in particular, Google Chrome Frame running as a plug-in has doubled the attack area for malware and malicious scripts. This is not a risk we would recommend our friends and families take”.

Mozilla has its own reasons for seemingly siding with Microsoft:  Firefox.  This same thing could very easily happen to them.  In fact, it could happen to any browser that supports a plug in model.  It also skews the numbers.  If Chrome ran in Firefox, than anytime a user browsed a site that invoked the plug in, then Chrome becomes the browser and NOT Firefox, or whatever browser is actually hosting the plug-in.

So, for anyone who was applauding Google for ‘doing the right thing’ by replacing the IE rendering engine with Chrome, think about it carefully.  Google could do this for any browser, including Firefox and Safari.  And what’s to prevent Google from implementing a ‘phone home’ feature in the plug in.  Do you want Google collecting this type of data as well?  And if Google is successful with this plug in, other companies will certainly follow.  I think this is a terrible idea and hope that no one else adopts it.

(Lest you think I am defending IE, I’m not.  I use Firefox and Safari now.  IE 8 is just too unreliable.  I love its features except for the randomness of actually rendering a page.)


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Apple software update, friend or foe?

Over the last few days, I noticed, on several of the computers in the house that run iTunes, that the Apple Software Update app kept popping up ‘suggesting’ that I wanted to install the iPhone configuration utility.  That would probably be something really helpful…if I actually owned an iPhone.  I don’t.  No one in my house owns the device.  I unchecked the box and closed the update. I just kind of let it go.  Until, that is, I read Ed Bott’s column about it on ZDNet. 

Ed is right.  While dismissing the app is no big deal and the planet won’t cease to spin on its axis, the point is an update application should not be offering up a totally new application.  I don’t mind it telling me about a new version of iTunes or Quick time.  I do use those, so I don’t mind being told when a new version is available. 

As many Apple defenders have pointed out, you can instruct the update app to ignore select apps.  That’s great, but I should not have to do this.  If I truly wanted a new configuration app for the iPhone-assuming I owned one-the first place I’d go is the Apple web site and NOT an application that is supposed to update my existing applications.  To echo many others who have also written about this, if a certain other company did this, Apple would be calling for some kind of governmental investigation, the Apple fan kids would be out in droves complaining about this.  But, when the table is turned, those same people are offering up all kinds of ‘help’, often in a very rude and disrespectful manner and NOT saying ‘Apple should not be doing that.’  Instead, they offer up the ‘you can just uncheck it’ or ‘…but I would not expect anything else from an idiot windohs’ user.’  Yeah, clever huh?  That reminds me, and I think I pointed this out recently, such things as ‘windoze’, ‘windohs’ and ‘M$’ are old.  Come up with something new, people.

Ed notes in an update to his column that the application in question no longer appears in the updates list.  Good for Apple, someone there was paying attention.

Of course, in the larger picture, this is a very minor and trivial argument and I am a bit surprised that Mr. Bott wrote of it, but, he did.  And the conversation has been very interesting.  It has really showed me the uglier side of the Apple fan kid.  I knew they were a rabid bunch, but…man, they can be pretty rude and childish too.  I guess Apple really was looking out for my best interests here.  Maybe they can send me an iPhone to go along with the app.

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webOS upgraded to 1.2.1 and Pre users all over rejoice

For the fifth time since its release, the webOS that powers the Palm Pre has been updated.  Today’s update is a fairly significant one and appears to fix some bugs and enhance a few of the built in applications including the browser, which got some nice new enhancements.  I won’t bore you with a rehash of what was changed, you can go here and here for that. 

I’ll just touch a few of the bigger changes.  First, the App Catalog.  In preparation for the ‘paid’ apps, Palm made a few changes to accommodate the actual purchasing ability.  They tweaked the interface a bit and you will have the ability to download an application that you’ve already purchase again at no charge.

The browser got a few decent upgrades.  Chiefly, you can now actually download files directly to your Pre.  This omission has always seemed just odd to me, but, whatever.  You can download now.  Cut, copy and paste have been enhanced.  You select paragraphs and images as well.  Tapping on a text field will cause the browser to zoom in on that field, a nice touch.  Holding down the ‘orange’ button and then tapping a link or an image now brings a context sensitive menu, giving you the options to opening the item in a new card, sharing the link via email or copying the URL. If it was an image, you get an extra option to copy the image to the Photo app.

The fact that Palm has updated the webOS five times now, two of which were significant upgrades, shows its commitment to the platform and customers.  Many of the features added were a result of user requests. Or, so it appears, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing…iTunes sync is still ‘broken’.  Who cares.

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App Stores…are they the make or break thing they seem to be? How good is the Apple App Store anyway?

One of the perceived benefits from the iPhone/iPod Touch is the App Store.  So much so, that other companies have scrambled to open up their own app stores.  The LACK of an app store, or, more specifically, third party apps, is also a perceived barrier to entry for many devices such as the Pal Pre, the Zune HD, phones from LG and Samsung and other similar devices.  Being to purchase, download and install said applications on said devices is seen as a must.  While the ability to do the entire transaction on the device is a huge benefit, I don’t see it as 100% necessary.  In fact, why such an ecosystem THAT important?

There are many reasons why you’d want such an ecosystem.  To extend the functionality of the device, perhaps, is probably the most important aspect of the ecosystem.  For example, the GPS ability of the iPhone and Palm Pre  (most modern phones, in fact) is kind of pointless with out software that can actually use the data.  Be it a Google Maps app or something like an app that can tell you what restaurants are close to you, for example.  What good is that always on Internet ability if there’s no other use for it other than a browser? 

Getting third party developers involved and having them pump out applications, easily enough, is one of the reasons that Windows is so ubiquitous today.  Apple knew that, at some point, it would have to open up the iPhone to third party development.  When it released, all that was available were web apps.  Now, I mean no disrespect to the developers of those apps, but the very notion of a web app is that it will be limited.  You can only use them while connected.  Fortunately for the iPhone, this limitation only lasted a year.  Apple finally released its SDK for the device and then opened the App Store.  Once it got its flawed approval process going, the flood gates, so to speak, were open.  As of now, there are supposedly over 75 thousand applications in the App Store.  Quantity, however, speaks nothing of quality and data seems to indicate that while there are those 75 thousand apps in the App Store, most are of dubious quality and rarely get used more than a few times once purchased.  And therein lies the flaw of the App Store.

Having that many applications in one place, while convenient, is not necessarily a good thing.  And the fact that you can ONLY get apps onto the device, legitimately, is through the Apple designed mechanism (iTunes + App Store) is not only limiting, but anti competitive as well.  But, Apple is not alone here.  Verizon has its own app store and they are configuring their phones to ONLY allow applications from that store.  Other companies are following suit, though some are less restrictive than the others.

A knock against the Palm Pre when it released was its lack of applications.  Indeed, the pickings were paltry and it took several months to hit fifty applications in the App Catalog.  However, the Pre is built on an open platform:  Linux.  webOS is really just a set of API’s and not really an ‘operating system’ in the strictest sense.  As such, people found out how, early on, to ‘side load’ applications.  Palm has done nothing to prevent this and, in fact, has unofficially embraced it.  Many of the applications that are now showing up in the App Catalog were developed and ‘beta’ tested by enthusiasts of the device.  Once the App Catalog begins its ‘paid’ operation, that is, when you have to actually start paying for apps, we’ll see just how generous Palm will be.

Most of the app stores seem to follow the Apple model:   apps can be any price, including free, and the there is a 70/30 split.  Some companies, like Microsoft, want to discourage the 99 cent application, telling developers that their work is worth more than that.  It is a way to say “we don’t want the same junk that Apple has”.  In other words, they don’t want a ton of flashlight, fart, roll the die or other such ‘apps’ to muddy up the app store experience.

Once again, we are back to the quantity of apps.  There are so many in the Apple App Store that it is difficult to find those that you want.  It became such a problem (and, I suppose, a good one to have) that Apple came out with the App Genius.  Like the music counterpart, the genius will analyze the apps you purchase and provide recommendations.  Somehow, I don’t see this as being all that successful.  We’ll see.

Microsoft recently introduced its Zune HD device.  It has the ability to run applications.  Microsoft did add an app store, of sorts, to the Zune Marketplace.  However, they are not opening it up to third parties.  They want to keep that for the Windows Mobile platform.  So, out of the gate, they are crippling what is an excellent platform.  Zune HD is leaps and bounds better than the previous gen hardware.  But, by closing the app store to third parties, they seem to be hindering the acceptance of the device.  Or are they?  While being able to check my Twitter feed or do a quick check of the weather would be really handy if I only have the Zune HD on me, it isn’t necessary.   I will have my Pre with me, so I could use that.  Moreover, the HD has a web browser, so I could use that if I have a connection.  But, all I really want the Zune HD for is the media player.  So, for me, lack of applications is not a big deal.  To others, it could be.  And I do think that Microsoft should open the platform up (it sort of is, you can use Visual Studio and the XNA SDK to create software for the HD as well as the older gen devices) to third parties AND encourage them to develop for the platform. Ultimately, I don’t think lack of apps will hurt the Zune HD, it certainly won’t do much to help it either.

While the Apple App Store has been a game changer, I think it was unintended.  I think if Apple could put the genie back in the bottle, they would.  They were taking a beating for not opening it up in the first place.  They HAD to do it.  That it was so successful, I believe, was a huge shock for the company.  I think if Steve Jobs could easily turn it off, he would do so.  Apple has, for all intents and purposes, lost control of the platform.  They just don’t know it yet.  They lost control when they started rejecting apps for, seemingly, no good reason.  And to reject an app because it might compete with something they did is absurd.  That one can ‘jailbreak’ the phone to get something ‘unofficial’ on the device says that Apple has failed to maintain its notorious control over the device.  They have real problems with the whole App Store ecosystem, but I think they will be OK.  These others companies, like Palm, like Microsoft, need to study, carefully, the failures of the Apple App Store and NOT repeat them.

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Light Peak from Intel and brought to you by Apple?

Engadget has published a story about Intel’s new ‘light peak’ connectivity format.  According to the story, Apple approached Intel about developing the new standard.  As early as 2007, Apple, apparently, approached Intel about replacing things like USB, Firewire and its own Display Interface with one connector.  The new format would have to handle large amounts of data without any delay in order to work. 

The article claims that Steve Jobs spoke to Paul Otellini directly about the new standard.  One of the demands of the standard is that it allow multiple devices to connect to a SINGLE Light Peak port.  My guess is that Mr. Jobs also has an aversion to having multiple connectors on his ‘beautiful’ designs…like having no buttons on the damned iPhone or iPods.  I’m surprised he has not embraced Bluetooth or another wireless solution and do away with all the bloody connectors save the power connector.  He’ like to do away the keyboards as well, I’m sure. (That reminds me, why doesn’t the Mac have problem free voice recognition…if it did, problem solved, right?)

While the prospect of one connector doing it all may sound nice, I would be concerned with what it would take to keep those multitude of signals and the associate processing all separate and deliver the performance we get now.  Throwing digital video into the fray seems to be the real issue with something like this.  But, then, I’m no engineer and Intel does have a few very smart people working for it.

The article states that Light Peak could make its debut in new Macs as soon as late 2010.  I can only imagine the cries from people who buy a Mac only to find it has no display port, USB or Firewire and they must now buy a new monitor, printer, camera adaptor, etc.   There will be ‘official’ Apple adaptors that will cost ten times what they should and be serialized so ONLY they will work with Macs and not any ‘unofficial’ pieces parts. Of course, after the initial shock wears off (after what, a day?) the Apple apologists will then make statements ‘well, I don’t use my USB stuff that much’ and ‘who STILL uses USB?’ and, perhaps, ‘Oh, that new Light Peak monitor is gorgeous…I just HAVE to get one!’  Well, yeah, you will.

Snarkiness aside, faster is always better and it would be very nice to have a single standard for devices that everyone would support.  Oh, wait, we have that.  It’s called USB and it is getting faster now that USB 3.0 is upon us.


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The Windows 7 House party prep video and its true purpose

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading and hearing about how awful the ‘Windows 7 House Party Prep’ video is and how stupid the dialog was.  Well, I’d say the video has accomplished more than what it was designed to accomplish:  Get the word out about Windows 7 launch (October 22) and keep Microsoft in the news.  Or, at least, the tech world news.  So what if it is poorly acted and written?  It has kept both Windows 7 and Microsoft ‘out front’, so to speak and has made folks aware of the ‘house parties’ as well.  I thought the whole house party thing was kind of dumb, but, now, I’m not so sure about that.  This may, in fact, be marketing genius.  It is certainly going to attract a certain amount of publicity when launch day arrives.  I’m sure more than a few television stations around the country will get wind of the geeks out there holding a Microsoft party, provided it is a slow news day, of course. 

At the very least, the whole house party thing has gotten people talking about Windows 7, Microsoft and the big M’s advertising-good and bad.  And, maybe, just maybe, that’s all it really was supposed to do.

How to host a Windows 7 house party
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Windows 7 Parental controls – usage and what has changed from Vista

Windows 7 Parental Controls are very similar to those found in Vista.  Most of the functionality is unchanged or has changed very little.  The walkthrough below is taken directly from a post I did in 2008 about Vista’s parental controls.  I have updated the text and images where necessary, but the post is mostly the same.

Diving In

The first thing you need to do is create a STANDARD user account for the child.  You can do so by going to the  control panel and selectingwin7ParentalControls01 USER ACCOUNTS AND FAMILY SAFETY.  Next, create a new user, fill in the name and make sure STANDARD USER is selected.  Next, you are presented with a dialog box containing icons of the available users.  Select the user you just created and then click the SETUP PARENTAL CONTROLS link under the Additional Things That You Can Do section.  Another dialog box will popup containing the parental controls options.  The first thing I did was set time limits.  This is important, especially during the school year, as you can tell Windows just how long your child can use the computer.  So, click the TIME LIMITS link.  You will be presented with a grid.  The grid is a laid out in days of week and hours in the day format.  Simply click in the boxes that corresponds to the clip_image002times that you DO NOT want your child to use the computer.  The blocks will turn blue, indicating that that block of time is off limits.  For my son, I have the computer log him off at bedtime and not allow login until after 6am, Sunday night through Friday morning.  On Friday and Saturday, I am more lenient with the times.


Web Limits

win7ParentalControls04Windows 7 no longer contains the built in web controls.  You now have to select your own provider.  Microsoft, for reasons unknown to me, has moved this functionality to its Windows Live Family Safety.  It is a small and free download from the Windows Live Essentials bundle.  It still works like the old integrated stuff that was in Vista.  You set it up a bit differently, and can manage it from the web.  To add an account,  click the Windows Live Family Safety link.  You’ll see the setup window.  Select the user you wish to monitor and click Next.  win7ParentalControls05 On the next panel, select what you wish to do for the accounts listed and click SAVE.  That’s it.  You can refine the monitoring by going to the web site.  The link on the same panel.

The Web limits will work with Internet Explorer 7 and higher or the latest version of Firefox.  Earlier versions of both browsers do not recognize the controls and, thus, can circumvent this.  Also, Opera and Safari do not work with the controls.  You add the browsers that are non-compliant to the program limits.  Web Limits can be as loose or tight as you like.  Microsoft maintains a list of ‘bad’ sites and will prevent your child from surfing to these site.  Conversely, you can choose to only allow a certain site or sites. There is a list that you can maintain and the browser will only allow the child to visit these sites.  Also, the language filter works very, very well.  I’ve seen it prevent my son from going to certain forums that looked innocent, but were, in fact, full of foul language.  It also appears to prevent him from visiting forums where certain words-not foul language-used in certain ways to allude or describe drug use or other more adult subjects.  I have been very  impressed by the filters.  I feel much more at ease with him visiting his favorite forums and message boards.  I have also locked out instant messaging.  I don’t trust it and won’t allow it until he is older.  I also preview new places he wants to go before I will allow it. 

Game Limitsclip_image003

There is also a game limit section.  This will allow you to prevent Windows from running games that are a certain rating or higher.  It also allows you to prevent games that might fit your  rating, but contain subject matter you do not wish your child from seeing.  An example of this might some games like Street Fighter, which has a teen rating but is very violent. Or games like Grand Theft Auto.  You have many, many choices.

NOTE:  Game and program limits do NOT work on FAT formatted drives.  I was not aware of this limitation in Vista, but it is certainly there in Windows 7.  You will be warned about. win7ParentalControls02







Parental controls can log everything your child does.  It is pretty thorough and shows things like how long they are logged in, what programs they run, what web sites they visit, games they play, how they played the games and more.  If your child tries to do something they are not supposed to do, Windows 7 User Access Control dialog pops up.  The child can then get you and you can decide to allow or disallow the action.  Warning:  the child cannot install anything without your approval.  Why did I say Warning?  Simple…anytime they get a game or a program, you must install it as they will not have permission.  I suspect most people will just install it anyway, but I’m sure there will be times that you forget and then junior will be coming back to get you.  The UAC message will also pop up if they try to go to a web site that has been deemed questionable.  Sometimes, it does prevent some legit sites like NickJr.   I have to figure that one out, but there was something that the filter did not like.

All in all, Microsoft did a great job with Windows 7 parental controls.  If your child has a computer that can run Windows 7, I highly recommend installing Windows 7 and setting up the parental controls.  Parental Controls alone make Windows 7 worth the upgrade.  Of course, your child may argue that. 

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