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Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

So, Google released it’s web browser, Chrome, to much fanfare last week.  Right now, only a Windows version is available, but the WINE developers worked quickly to release a patch that allows Linux users to run Chrome.  Here’s the proof:

The directions are available from Ubuntu Geek.

I already used Chrome on my Windows XP computer at work.  It’s ok.  Nothing spectacular.  Sure, it isolates tabs as separate processes so it won’t crash completely, but how often does Firefox crash?  For me, extremely rarely.  It’s also supposed to be faster, but we’re talking about shaving milliseconds off rendering time.  If you are a human being, you won’t notice the difference.  All of the major browsers render in a reasonably timely manner, as far as I can tell.  Chrome also, at this point, doesn’t have extensions that my web browsing experience depends on: Adblock Plus, Element Hiding Helper, Better Gmail 2, etc.

I think I’ll stick with Firefox for now.

Also, the release of Google Chrome has sparked a lot of discussion and debate on Ubuntu Forums.  Imagine what the reaction would be if they ever released a much-mythologized operating system?

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Like many people, I was excited when I first heard about netbooks.  Most of my computing experience revolves around the Internet, so a low-cost machine for that purpose would be useful to me, and it would lower the barrier to entry for many people who still aren’t on the net.  Then I found out how small the screens are.  Sorry, but the Web is a visual experience, and the most important part of the machine is the display.  How can you view web pages on a seven inch screen?

Well, it looks like a solution is in development.  TechCrunchIT has announced that they want to build a “web tablet” that does nothing more than boot into an instance of Firefox.  It could run on 512 MB RAM and a 4 GB SSD.  In my mind, as long as it has a 15.4″ or 17″ screen with 1440×900 resolution or higher, and sells for around $200, I’m sold!

Here’s a mock up of their web tablet:

With the latest and best wireless networking, this would be a marvelous gadget for many use cases: traveling on business, going on vacation, attending conferences, browsing at the coffee shop, or sitting on the bus.

The most interesting part is that they want to build it completely open-source, and they’ve received an overwhelming response on their blog from people who want to help (here, here, and here).  Hopefully they will accomplish their goals.

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A self-described mother of five posted an article on Linux.com about a new content filtering add-on for Firefox called Glubble.  Like NetNanny, Dansguardian, and all the rest, it relies on white lists and black lists of key words.  This approach has its cumbersome limitations.  My anonymous suggestion in the comments (which you should recognize after reading this post) is that content filters should tap into the wisdom of crowds.

James Surowiecki wrote an excellent book about the Wisdom of Crowds, where he described the power of crowdsourcing for solutions to difficult problems.  This concept goes back to the days of “Wanted” posters in the Wild West.  Even if the sheriff couldn’t find a criminal, with enough eyes the culprit could be caught.  Today we have Amber Alerts for the same reason.

Eric S. Raymond applied this principle to software development when he famously said, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

Likewise, many companies use crowds to build their business models.  Dell has IdeaStorm and Ubuntu / Canonical have BrainstormPowerset, which was recently bought by Google for US$100 million, is developing its natural language search engine by allowing people to rate the results of its search.

Gmail’s spam filter went from allowing 20-30% of spam to slip through down to less than 1% because it was “taught” the difference between spam and non-spam by users who click the Spam button.

A good content filtering system could be developed if users — parents — were allowed to rate web sites based on their appropriateness for various age groups: say, 0-3 years, 3-6, 6-10, 10-14, and 14-17.  The filter would perform poorly at first (thus it would probably have to go through a beta phase where a few thousands select users contributed to its knowledge, much like the development phase of the Powerset search algorithm), but eventually it would achieve much better results than current content filtering systems.

In the best of all worlds, it would go beyond using average ratings for particular domains or web pages and implement a natural language algorithm that could parse sentences and “understand” context.  Thus a search for “urinary tract infection” would not block a bunch of pages because of all the associated words that tend to get flagged.

Given that Powerset’s bread and butter is the development of algorithms that understand natural language, this seems a like a good business opportunity for them / Google.

Maybe they will read my blog. :)

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This screenshot was taken from http://www.johnmccain.com/supporters/ on 18 July.  Kind of funny.

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The end of spam

These days, spam accounts for 90% of all email.  My Gmail account is deluged with about 150 spam messages per day.  It costs businesses an estimated $10 billion per year to deal with.  And the problem just keeps getting worse.  Botnets on compromised computers can crack CAPTCHAs, create endless random accounts, and send millions of emails.  If you clean up some of the computers, you can be sure that even more will be compromised in time.  It is believed that spam could cripple the electronic mail system.

What are we to do?  A number of solutions have been proposed, all with their limitations.  Some have suggested using digital signatures, certificates, white lists, better filtering algorithms, and so on.  But hackers continually invent ways to circumvent our defenses.

The solution, in my opinion, is to get rid of email.  That’s right, eliminate email.  It’s an inherently vulnerable system of communication.

Internet users under the age of 25 don’t use it anymore, anyway.  Their primary means of communication is social networking sites.  Web forums replaced mailing lists as the primary means of communication for special interest groups several years ago.  Services like Google Docs, Google Sites, and web interfaces on internal corporate LANs are already paving the way for new forms of collaboration.

In short, our future is on the web.  In five or 10 years, we will have web interfaces that satisfy all of our communication needs, whether it’s online desktops, private messaging, or group collaboration.  Email will be as obsolete as gopher (yeah, remember that?).

The best part is that these interfaces provide far better control over the communication channels than email does, as long as people understand how to use them.

On a personal note, I rarely use email anymore, too.  More than 99% of my email is spam.  I won’t miss it.

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Information Week reports on an analysis by the web monitoring firm Pingdom, which revealed that Microsoft has the most “reliable” update service, better than Mac, and much better than Ubuntu.   Microsoft’s update service had an uptime of 100% in the second quarter of 2008, while Mac’s was 99.9%, and Ubuntu’s was 98.6%.

Of course, this single metric doesn’t tell you much about the overall quality of the update service.  How about the quality of the updates themselves?  How many vulnerabilities were fixed, and how many vulnerabilities were introduced that need further patching?  How about the length of time that it takes to get updates, especially those that address critical security vulnerabilities, out to the public?  I’d rather have to wait a couple of hours to get an update because the server is down than to wait weeks or months because the software developers haven’t completed the patches.  The fact still remains that updates take significantly longer to get to Windows users than to Ubuntu users, and GNU/Linux is still a more secure operating system.  Pingdom’s analysis is worthless.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday he will recommend that the nation’s largest cable company be punished for violating agency principles that guarantee customers open access to the Internet.

The potentially precedent-setting move stems from a complaint against Comcast Corp. that the company had blocked Internet traffic among users of a certain type of “file sharing” software that allows them to exchange large amounts of data.

Source.

I signed a contract with Comcast for a service that was advertised as providing unlimited data transfer at 5 Mb/s.  By shaping their clients’ Internet traffic, Comcast was clearly offering a service that was falsely advertised, even if they weren’t violating their own contract with the customer.

Am I just another copyright violator complaining because Comcast is thwarting my ability to break the law?  No, there are legitimate uses of p2p networks, such as distributing open source software.  Many OSS developers recommend using p2p networks to distribute their products, since they provide better data integrity and take a load off the developers’ servers.

Oh, well.  I’ll be moving soon, and I won’t have to put up with Comcast anymore.

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