David Kirkpatrick

April 2, 2010

Google’s Chrome will auto-update Flash

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:57 pm

I’ve never really been a fan of auto-updates of any sort, but the majority of computer users really need the convenience and out-of-sight/out-of-mind safety of auto-updates. Chrome is the first browser to automatically push updates for Adobe Flash to users. Probably a good thing in the long run, and doesn’t change my thought that Chrome is the best browser by a long shot. If you haven’t tried it, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot — even if you’re a dedicated Firefox user.

From the link:

Adobe’s (ADBE) new partnership with Google will keep Internet users safer because Chrome will automatically update Flash Player without asking users, an Adobe director of engineering said.

On Tuesday, the two companies announced that Google would include Adobe’s Flash Player in downloads of Chrome starting with the rough-around-the-edges builds of the browser’s “dev” channel. Google will also employ Chrome’s auto-updater to push Flash fixes to users without notifying them or asking them to approve the download.

The integration, particularly the automatic updating of Adobe’s plug-in, is a first for a browser maker.

“If you want to have a safe experience, updates should just happen in the background,” said Peter Betlem, senior director of Flash Player engineering.

Unlike other browsers, Chrome updates itself automatically in the background without asking for permission or prompting users that security fixes or new features are available. The practice, which Google (GOOG) debuted alongside Chrome in September 2008 , riled some users initially, but the criticism soon faded.

February 22, 2010

A tool to stop “drive-by downloads”

If this thing works, everyone ought to use to it.

From the link:

Researchers at SRI International and Georgia Tech are preparing to release a free tool to stop “drive-by” downloads: Internet attacks in which the mere act of visiting a Web site results in the surreptitious installation of malicious software. The new tool, called BLADE (Block All Drive-By Download Exploits), stops downloads that are initiated without the user’s consent.

“When your browser is presented with an [executable file] for download, it’s supposed to prompt you for what to do,” said Phil Porras, SRI’s program director. But software can also be pushed onto an unsuspecting user’s computer without ever asking for permission.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, roughly 5.5 million Web pages contained software designed to foist unwanted installs on visitors, according to Dasient, a firm that helps protect websites from Web-based malware attacks. Such drive-by downloads target computers that are not up-to-date with the latest security patches for common Web browser vulnerabiltiies, or are missing security updates for key browser plug-ins, such as Adobe’s PDF Reader and Flash Player. Attackers use software called exploit packs, which probe the visitor’s browser for known security holes.

January 27, 2010

Using the cloud for code debugging

Interesting idea, but I get the feeling this release is trading on “cloud” being the tech word of the moment.

The release:

Safety in numbers — a cloud-based immune system for computers

A new approach for managing bugs in computer software has been developed by a team led by Prof. George Candea at EPFL. The latest version of Dimmunix, available for free download, enables entire networks of computers to cooperate in order to collectively avoid the manifestations of bugs in software.

A new IT tool, developed by the Dependable Systems Lab at EPFL in Switzerland, called “Dimmunix,” enables programs to avoid future recurrences of bugs without any assistance from users or programmers. The approach, termed “failure immunity,” starts working the first time a bug occurs – it saves a signature of the bug, then observes how the computer reacts, and records a trace. When the bug is about to manifest again, Dimmunix uses these traces to rec-ognize the bug and automatically alters the execution so the program continues to run smooth-ly. With Dimmunix, your Web browser learns how to avoid freezing a second time when bugs associated with, for example, plug-ins occur. Going a step further, the latest version uses cloud computing technology to take advantage of networks and thereby inoculating entire communities of computers.

“Dimmunix could be compared to a human immune system. Once the body is infected, its immune system develops antibodies. Subsequently, when the immune system encounters the same pathogen once again, the body recognizes it and knows how to effectively fight the ill-ness,” explains George Candea, director of Dependable Systems Lab, where the new tool has been developed. The young Romanian professor received his PhD in computer science from Stanford University in 2005 and his BS (1997) and MEng (1998) in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The latest version, released online at the end of December (http://dimmunix.epfl.ch/), leverag-es the network. Based on the principle of cloud computing, all computers participating in the Dimmunix application community benefit from vaccines automatically produced whenever the first manifestation of a given bug within that community. This new version of Dimmunix is able to safely protect programs from bugs, even in un-trusted environments such as the In-ternet.

For the moment meant primarily for computer programmers, Dimmunix works for all widely-used programs used by private individuals and by companies. It is useful for programs written in Java and C/C++; it has been demonstrated on real software systems (JBoss, MySQL, Acti-veMQ, Apache, httpd, JDBC, Java JDK, and Limewire).

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August 28, 2009

Cato’s Tim Lee on software patents

(Hint: he’s against them …  and I am too)

No link here, this come through the inbox with this title, “The Case against Literary (and Software) Patents” and this descriptor, “Issue #125, August 28, 2009; by Timothy B. Lee.”

If you really feel the need to do some clicking here’s the footer, “Timothy B. Lee is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. To subscribe or see a list of all previous TechKnowledge articles, visit www.cato.org/tech/tk-index.html.”

I’m going to pull from this excellent piece by Lee, but I’m betting you can find the whole thing following that last link up there. It’s worth the read.

Software patents have been a drain on the IT world for a while and things have become simply out of hand. If you’ve never looked too deeply into the topic, or even never have heard of it, it’s shocking in how the US Patent and Trademark Office has been willingly misused by IT firms. Usually very big IT firms.

From the essay:

Patent protection was first extended to software in the 1980s, and the practice accelerated in the 1990s. As a result, it is now difficult to create any significant software without infringing a patent. With tens of thousands of software patents granted every year, and no effective indexing method for software patents, there is no cost-effective way to determine which patents cover any piece of software.

Stanford law professor Mark Lemley has documented the unsurprising result: most firms in the IT industry have simply given up trying to avoid patent infringement. Instead, larger firms stockpile patents to use as ammunition when they are inevitably sued for infringement. They also sign broad cross-licensing agreements with other large firms promising not to sue one another. This has prevented patents from bringing the software industry to a standstill, but it’s hard to see how the practice promotes innovation.

Even worse, software patents tilt the playing field against smaller and more innovative software firms. Most small firms develop their technology independently of their larger competitors, but this isn’t enough to prevent liability; incumbents have so many broad software patents that it’s impossible to enter many software markets without infringing some of them. Small firms don�t have the large patent arsenals they need to negotiate for cross-licensing agreements with their rivals. As a consequence, incumbents can use their patent portfolios to drive smaller competitors out of business. Other small firms are forced to pay stiff licensing fees as a cost of entering the software industry. The result is to limit competition rather than promote innovation.

The Supreme Court has been taking steps to rein in the patent bar in recent decisions such as KSR v. Teleflex. But the Court hasn’t directly addressed the patentability of software since 1981, when it ruled (as it had on two previous occasions) that software is ineligible for patent protection. In the intervening years, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals, has seemed to stray far from that principle. But the Supremes have not reviewed any of its key decisions.

The patent at issue in Bilski is not a software patent; it is a “business method” patent that claims a strategy for hedging against financial risk. But the case is being closely watched for its effects on the software patent issue. Patented business methods are often implemented in software; for example, a key decision on the patentability of software, State Street Bank v. Signature Financial Group, involved a software-implemented business method. And the standard articulated by the Federal Circuit in Bilski, known as the �machine-or-transformation test� has been used by the Patent Office in recent months to invalidate several software patents. The Supreme Court could ratify the Federal Circuit’s mildly restrictive standard, or it could articulate its own standard that is either more or less restrictive of patents on software.

June 4, 2009

Economic downturn is lowering software prices

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:59 pm

The global recession hasn’t lowered prices in all categories, but it looks like software is one sector pressed to get lower. In a time of limited spending for many firms, I’d say pushing dollars toward the IT budget might be a good idea.

From the link:

The worldwide recession has hammered IT budgets but has also prompted vendors to make their software pricing and licensing models more customer-friendly, according to a new Forrester Research report.Forrester’s report looked at how 12 enterprise software vendors’ pricing and licensing strategies changed in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of this year.

Easily the most dramatic change was SAP’s recent, well-publicized agreement with user groups around KPIs (key performance indicators) to prove the value of its fuller-featured but more expensive Enterprise Support service.

“The SAP change hasn’t really caused the market to go and say, we’ll do KPIs now,” said the report’s author, analyst Ray Wang.

But overall, “it is truly a buyer’s market,” he said. “We’re really seeing vendors being a lot more accommodating, especially with new customers.”

February 7, 2009

GOP pushing to delay CPSIA of 2008

This is news that affects one of my clients, Vouch Software, because its application is a virtual product safety test for infant toys and products. I will say pretty much everyone is in agreement that this law was far too draconian and implemented way too quickly. Hopefully this legislation will gain some traction to give the industry a little breathing room.

I’m betting this will be big talk next weekend at the Toy Industry Association’s Toy Fair ’09 in New York. The safety talk is to be held Monday, February16.

From the WSJ link:

Congress rushed to pass a tough new consumer safety law last year, and now a number of Republican lawmakers are rushing again to pass legislation to delay the date the stricter rules go into effect.

The bill, which sets stringent limits on lead in children’s products and bans some phthalates, a class of chemicals used to soften plastics, called for children’s products to be in compliance by Tuesday, Feb. 10. Companies, particularly smaller ones that make toys and other children’s products, are worried and have been begging lawmakers to delay the rules. Because the standards were applied retroactively, they argue, they now face warehouses full of noncompliant inventory, financial losses or even bankruptcies. Some lawmakers blame the Consumer Product Safety Commission for doing too little while the CPSC’s acting chairwoman blames Congress for going too far.

February 4, 2009

Fences desktop app for Windows

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:38 pm

This isn’t an endorsement (or a non-endorsement for that matter — just passing info along). I’ve not downloaded the program for use, but did look over the site after this release came across the inbox tonight. It looks pretty interesting for Windows users.

My desktop is an ongoing mess, and that’s just the one full of papers, books and a half-empty candy box. Badabing, I’ll be here all week folks. Be sure to tip your waitress and try the porterhouse special on Tuesday night …

The release:

Stardock’s New ‘Fences’ Application Solves Desktop Clutter Problems, Organizes the Desktop

PLYMOUTH, Mich., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire/ — Stardock launched its most innovative desktop utility application since the popular WindowBlinds today — Stardock Fences for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. The free application from Stardock clears desktop clutter and provides consistency and organization for groups of files on the desktop. Fences allows users to literally “draw” labeled shaded areas on the desktop which become movable & resizable “containers” for desktop icons. These groups arrange and hide the files on the computer’s desktop solving the “constant mess” problem that has plagued the desktop since its inception.

Stardock President and CEO Brad Wardell said, “This is easily the most innovative piece of software we’ve released since WindowBlinds, which considering the popularity of DeskScapes, ObjectDock, DesktopX and our other programs I think is saying a lot.”

To help solve another weak point of the desktop — the mere appearance of clutter, Fences offers a novel quick-hide feature. Users can double click the desktop and all of the icons will fade out. When users double click again the icons will return. Users can pick and choose which desktop icons hide when the feature is activated.

To see Fences in action and download please visit: http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/.

  For more information about Stardock please visit www.stardock.com.

  About Stardock

Stardock is one of the world’s leading developers and publishers of PC games and desktop software.  Its PC games include Sins of a Solar Empire, the highest rated and best selling PC strategy game of 2008 as well as the critically acclaimed Galactic Civilizations series. Its desktop software includes Object Desktop, WindowBlinds, and a host of other programs for customizing the Windows experience. Learn more about Stardock by visiting www.stardock.com.

Source: Stardock
   

Web site:  http://www.stardock.com/
http://www.stardock.com/products/fences

February 2, 2009

VanDuzen’s latest — Vouch Software

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:37 pm

Got a call from Nancy Hairston, founder and president of VanDuzen, last week with some exciting news. The 3D visualization and modeling company is about to officially release Vouch Software.

Vouch is geared toward designers and manufacturers of toys and products for infants and allows for digitally testing designs. This tool will be a tremendous time and money saver by pushing basic safety testing back into the design phase using 3D virtual models instead of physical prototypes.

One designer who used Vouch in beta said she even ran tests while designing and made changes on the fly instead of creating a finished product for testing. Pretty cool.

From the link:

“These days you have to design safety in. If you wait until after the toy
is made, it’s way too late. You can’t do it after the fact.”

Peter Schaefer
Vice-President, Safety, Security and Social Accountability – McDonald’s
As quoted in Chicago Tribune.com, August 5, 2007


What our other customers are saying

“Vouch gives me results faster than I can fill out the paperwork
requesting the rapid prototype for testing.”

“I run tests in Vouch concurrently while I design in Rhino, it is so fast.”

“We design digitally…why not test digitally.”

December 17, 2008

Semantic web on the desktop

Semantic web tech news from Technology Review.

From the link:

People naturally group information by topic and remember relationships between important things, like a person and the company where she works. But enabling computers to grasp these same concepts has been the subject of long-standing research. Recently, this has focused on the Semantic Web, but a European endeavor called the Nepomuk Project will soon see the effort take new steps onto the PC in the form of a “semantic desktop.”

Those working on the project, coordinated by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), have been toiling for three years to create software that can spot meaningful connections between the files on a computer. Nepomuk’s software is available for several computer platforms and now comes as a standard component of the K Desktop Environment (KDE), a popular graphical interface for the Linux operating system.

The idea of a semantic desktop is not new. The Open Source Applications Foundation and SRI, two nonprofit organizations, have both worked on similar projects. But previous efforts have suffered from the difficulty of generating good semantic information: for semantic software to be useful, semantic information needs to be generated and tagged to files and documents. But without useful applications in the first place, it is hard to persuade users to generate and tag this data themselves.

September 5, 2008

A virtual planetarium

This is so outrageously cool.

From the PhysOrg link:

You simply insert a USB stick and CD into your laptop, tablet, or PC. The stick contains an embedded magnetic compass and accelerometers for sensing tilt. By pointing your computer at a certain area of the sky, the system automatically identifies the stars or planets in that location and displays stock photos and additional information.

The concept also works in reverse: StellarWindow has a voice recognition system, so users can speak the name of a star, constellation, or planet, and the software will tell you how to point your computer in the right direction.

StellarWindow is being released by Fairy Devices, Inc., a Japanese start-up company created by a group of students from Waseda University. Fairy Devices plans to release the software by the end of 2008 for about 26 Yen ($250).

August 12, 2008

Zoho, Google and Microsoft

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:56 pm

This CIO.com story on Zoho is first I’ve heard of the software firm. It’s interesting because it’s taking a different approach to breaking into the big leagues. Zoho’s in the software as a service (SaaS) space, so its key competitors include Google and Microsoft.

(Total aside, if you’re reading much of the IT media world right now, SaaS comes up almost as often as cloud computing.)

An excerpt from the first link:

Here’s an interesting strategy for a new software company: create applications that place you squarely in the competitive sights of Google and Microsoft, bypass venture capital funding, and rebuff an acquisition offer from Salesforce.com, the surging software as a service (SaaS) company that delivers its products over the Web

That’s been the exact path of Zoho, a SaaS company launched in 2005 that offers a wide range of online software, including e-mail, a word processor, spreadsheets, wikis, and even a customer relationship management application that it sells to sales and marketing departments. In all, Zoho sells 17 productivity and collaboration apps, all for prices that, by traditional software standards, are dirt cheap.

For the whole lot of Zoho’s business applications, it costs a mere $50 per user per year (the same price that Google asks large enterprises for its Google Apps software). By contrast, the Professional Version of Microsoft Office, the popular software found on workstations throughout most of the corporate world, retails for as high as $499, the same price as some personal computers on the shelf at Wal-Mart.

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