pyehouse
12Oct/110

BlackBerry Dying On the Vine

I almost feel sorry for RIM. It's bad enough that what was once the golden child of the smartphone world, at least among business users, is now being taken out back by these upstart iPhones and Androids, but now the reliability of their centerpiece, their BlackBerry Messenger service, is being called into question due to an outage that is going on three days and is affecting world wide communications among its users.

The Register reports ongoing problems despite RIM's reassurance that all is well. And they note that the most affected are non-BES users, those who are perhaps on individual plans or business users who operate with smaller companies that can't afford their own BES server, even the free BESX variant. Given that the competition is moving in on RIM's turf because of their popularity with just this crowd, this isn't going to give RIM any traction to fight off the relative newcomers. Additionally, it seems some BES users also appear to be affected, further eroding support for the platform. But the worst part of all of this is the continuing denial on RIM's part that anything is wrong.

It's one thing to admit that you are not sure what is causing the problem. That is bad but given the complexity of a system with the size and scope of the BlackBerry Messenger service, it's believable. It's also understandable if you point out that you think you have the problem licked but that you are waiting to know for sure. It's almost commendable if you then enlist your customers, asking them to let you know of any further feedback "to assist in troubleshooting" the issue. But to keep telling the world you've got it fixed, only for the world to reply that, in fact, you do not... that shows not only a continuing technical ignorance about the problem but a completely myopic approach to customer relations that is only going to further alienate a shrinking customer base. RIM can ill afford to lose more customers over something that was supposed to be their strong suit.

In fact, there has always been a longstanding argument that the BlackBerry was the only enterprise-worthy smartphone, that the others simply weren't ready to play in a big corporate environment. RIM could point to two things, the manageability of their devices in a corporate environment and their relative stability, as points of comparison with their rivals which made RIM look like the better choice. Well, the manageability side has been less of a comparison point given the options available for iPhone and Android devices in the corporation and now the stability of RIM's services is being called into question. Overall, not a good week for RIM.

The best thing RIM can do now is admit the problems are ongoing rather than trying to cover them up and, of course, fix the problem. But if they continue with their head in the sand approach, when they come up for air they may find they're left standing with far fewer customers than when they started.

7Oct/111

Richard Stallman is a Jerk.. and Wrong

The title of this post is pretty indicative of the tone and content of this post. If you worship at the altar of Richard Stallman and promote all things Stallmanesque then I contend you are not likely to enjoy the rest of this post.

How to be a Jerk in Just 102 Words

First, I'll let you read what Richard Stallman decided needed to be said in response to the death of Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.

As Chicago Mayor Harold Washington said of the corrupt former Mayor Daley, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone." Nobody deserves to have to die - not Jobs, not Mr. Bill, not even people guilty of bigger evils than theirs. But we all deserve the end of Jobs' malign influence on people's computing.

Unfortunately, that influence continues despite his absence. We can only hope his successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.

Where to begin? Mr. Stallman, you clearly have strong feelings about the free software movement, I get that. Clearly you can get a lot more mileage by being caustic than sweet, particularly when you still feel you need to generate traction in the mainstream. But your attempt at riding one man's popularity into his grave in order to promote an agenda while maligning his contributions seems designed solely to backfire and alienate you from anyone aside from your most devoted fans.

I am not alone in finding your statement repugnant and disrespectful, no matter how you might attempt to soften your stance (i.e. "Nobody deserves to have to die"). Even those who might agree with your stance on free software appear to be taken aback by your (call it what it is) callous, opportunistic abuse of another man's death. You seem to oppose corporate entities making hay off the work of others, yet even some of Apple's biggest competitors refrained from stepping on this moment. Whatever goal you might have hoped for, you have only shown yourself to be petty and bitter and unwilling to grant that another person's life might have offered worth to the world in spite of your opposition to their principles.

And How to be Wrong, Too

And let's take a look at those principles, shall we? You dislike that Jobs promoted a device which is "designed to sever fools from their freedom". So glad to see you take a shot at the living. I think you miss the point. If Mr. Jobs were still alive and asked if he designed the iPhone or any other Apple device to be in some way less free, I imagine he would have said that wasn't the point, that in fact most people do not care. His goals were simply orthogonal to freedom, in the sense of which you speak. It wasn't on his radar. The freedom Mr. Jobs espoused was the freedom not to be bound by the limitations of poor design. Of complexities which distract the user from creating. Of dealing with tools which never saw the word "No".

I find myself forced to admit you have made positive contributions in your efforts to push the free software agenda. But I find it shocking that you can be so oblivious to the positive influence Steve Jobs had on the world. I am not the type to build someone up beyond where they deserve to be, but you have to admit that inasmuch as your drive and determination has pushed a movement, Mr. Jobs' drive and determination has pushed industries (plural), and has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to do more to create and produce and communicate.

And my final point on the matter... put up or shut up, Mr. Stallman. The mass appeal of Apple products does not lie purely in marketing muscle. They are appealing specifically because they are well designed, highly polished and focused on what consumers need. They simply work. More importantly they get out of the way to do so. While there are well designed free software products which can make a similar claim, the most common refrain of casual users is that when compared to non-free solutions, functionality is either missing, poorly designed or difficult to understand. In short, the tool gets in the way of the worker. Perhaps if the movement which you champion so vehemently (and yet are serving so poorly with this sort of vitriol) was more capable of producing software that serves the user more effectively, you might gain some leverage. Until then, deal with the fact that most people are not interested in what you are pushing. And try to learn what it means to actually respect another's accomplishments rather than attempting to tarnish someone's image in order to further your own cause.

30Aug/110

Malware .. Plague of the Internet

So you think you may have become infected with malware (that is, a virus, a trojan, a keylogger, a rootkit or any other number of bits of malevolent software). First off, realize that many types of malware can be cleanly removed. The counterpoint to that is that not only are other types extremely hard to get rid of, they can even confound anti-malware kits you might have installed or are considering installing to clean things up. Sometimes the safest approach might even be to physically remove your infected hard drive and connect it as a passive drive on another clean machine with cleanup tools which can then work with the infected drive without actually fighting against the malware installed on it.

Here are some sites with some apps that can help:

http://www.gmer.net - this site contains three tools:

  • GMER itself does very thorough scans and can attempt to clean some types of malware (they recommend that you rename it to something random before running so as to disallow malware on your system from trying to halt its execution)
  • catchme, which tries to detect whether you have a rootkit running
  • mbr, which tries to detect whether you have a MBR (Master Boot Record) infection, one of the thorniest types of malware to clean because you can’t (normally) clean it while booted up from the infected drive

http://support.kaspersky.com/viruses/solutions?qid=208280684 - this site links to Kaspersky’s TDSSKiller application which can disinfect certain rootkits

http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/download/anti-virus/combofix - this site links to ComboFix, an application that is updated regularly to find and eliminate a variety of malware infections. The warnings indicate you should only run it when you are told to do so by the helpers at bleepingcomputer.com so take it with a grain of salt

http://www.malwarebytes.org/ - this site links to MalwareBytes’ Anti-Malware (aka MBAM) which with the free version can do after-the-infection cleanup in some cases, but they also have a paid version ($25/yr) which tries to actively prevent infections.

http://download.bleepingcomputer.com/grinler/unhide.exe - this application is used to unhide your start menu and folders after certain applications hide them in an attempt to make you think your machine was damaged and that the malware can fix it if you provide a credit card number.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are other tools available as well. More importantly these tools are explicitly NOT antivirus tools along the lines of Symantec, Security Essentials, Sophos, Avast and others. With the exception of MBAM, they don’t have a resident mode to monitor your machine to try to prevent outbreaks or instantly clean up infections in real time. They are mostly intended to clean things up when requested. And nothing replaces contacting an actual computer support technician to have a look. Additionally these tools are typically updated frequently to respond to the most recent outbreaks. This means you shouldn’t just download a copy and expect it to be equally effective six months down the road.

19Aug/100

Out with the new, In with the old

So I’ve been using the beta version of Yahoo and I have to say I’m not happy. I’ve presented my feedback and of course gotten no responses (it’s intended to be anonymous and you shouldn’t expect a response). Yet they also haven’t addressed the issues.

The single biggest gripe that I have is the usage of mouseover effects to popup frames. For example, if you visit the site you will see a ‘My Favorites’ section on the left and if you hover your mouse over one of the items in that list, even for a brief moment, a new frame will appear with a bit of content pertaining to that item. The problem is that these frames will cover up other areas of the page that I may be attempting to either read or actually interact with. This means I have to move the mouse away to a “clear” area, wait for the frame to register this and close itself, then move the mouse to the area I’m interested in, trying to either make sure I’m quick enough to not trigger the popups or that I move it through a virtual maze to avoid any of the popup sensitive areas.

The other gripe that I have centers around the main news area in the center column just below the page headers. This consists of a main content area and below that a strip of four items which one can, once again, hover over to change the main content area. In addition there are two very small navigation icons below and to the right of this strip of four items which are used to navigate to the next or previous set of four items. Hovering over one of the four items changes the content area, showing a different photo, a larger headline, a snippet of text and possibly additional related links. Again we have the same mouseover behavior that causes problems. If I hover over the fourth item to make it show up in the content area and then move my mouse to the newly displayed headline to read the full article, I have a very good chance of mousing over the third item and causing it to take up the content area before I get there. Now I have to go back and mouse over the fourth item again, then move up and then left, running the virtual maze to avoid undesired mouseovers.

It gets better though. Let’s suppose I’m just wanting to flip through the various strips to find headlines I might be curious about. So I rest my mouse over one of the tiny navigational icons and start clicking. Then a headline comes along which is three lines tall instead of two lines, containing enough space to force the lines to span an extra vertical area. Now the navigation icons have moved. I adjust my mouse, click again, and find all the headlines are back to two lines and now the navigation icons have moved once more, going up now.

The original Yahoo interface was very click based. You had to click to interact with almost everything, the one exception being the area on the right where you selected one of the content icons and that content (or a subset of it) revealed itself for you to work with. Because this content revealed itself within the same area that the content icons were located within, it felt less frustrating. I knew that was a “danger zone” and could accommodate it accordingly. It wasn’t perfect but it limited the oddities to a small portion of the screen. The new page is mouse position based. Where your mouse is determines what you see. It’s as if they’re trying to do away with clicking as much as possible. I suggest that either they readopt the old method of mouse position popups only affecting the areas where the mouse moved to so as not to interrupt other areas or to revert back to a click based environment, fetching the popups only when you actually click on the item which is currently a mouseover sensor. As for the navigation icons, you can’t avoid possibly having a headline take too much space up. The navigation icons should be a little thicker and span the vertical height that the four element strips take up and should be on each side. The strips will lose some horizontal space as a result, but the user need never move their mouse when navigating the strips and won’t accidentally click left when they meant right.

Unfortunately what I think has happened is that someone got ahold of a new toy, started revamping the web page and forgot the point of it all... making it easier for the user, not more fun for the developer.

Filed under: gripes, tech No Comments