September 5th, 2007

monk john

Don't look that way, look over here!

So Silverlight 1.0 was released today according to Macworld.

Which begs the question of course, why? What's the purpose. Well, Microsoft has all kinds of happy clappy PR about how it's going to make all kinds of rich content available, blah, yadda.

But we have that today, with Flash and others. But Flash is not a Microsoft tech, so we all knew that at some point, it was going to be a problem for Microsoft. Hence Silverlight. Now, that's not to say that Silverlight doesn't have its advantages, but it has some serious disadvantages too. First and foremost, it's a cross-platform product from the Windows side of the Microsoft house. Over the years, I've learned that any cross-platform work from that group either has a lifespan measured in a single major version, if that long, (Cross - platform Active X, Outlook 2001), will be introduced in a fanfare, then upgraded rarely, if at all, never really work right, and in general be a total pain in the ass, (Windows Media Player, Services for Macintosh), or exist only to try and get people to dump !Windows for Windows, (Services for Unix). Sometimes, Microsoft doesn't really do a damned thing other than PR, (The Sun deal, Port25), and they can't even do that right, (The Linux vendor deals while making vague threats of IP suits against Linux users).

In other words, once you get outside of the Mac BU, Microsoft's cross - platform efforts lack trustability. Honestly, I'm not taking it seriously until the release of Silverlight 2.0 for !Windows with 100% feature parity with the Windows version.

Secondly, the dev tools are all Windows only. Oh sure, you can write XAML in a text editor, but then again, in theory, you can code Word with a text editor. Yet no one seems to do that. The issue here is that to do "real" Silverlight work, your coders, your designers, pretty much everyone involved with Silverlight from a creation standpoint has to move to Windows. Now, let's see...move a lot of Mac and Linux content creators to Silverlight due to great promises and PR from Microsoft, and a couple years later..."Oh, we're moving it to Windows only, and redoing the licenses so you can't use it anywhere else." Oops. Oh, yeah, it's happened before. Remember Rotor? Rotor version one was cross platform. Version 2? Windows only. Surprise!

So right now, Microsoft's sole real-world commitment to Silverlight, as in, they spent money and created code, the only commitment I take seriously from any company, is a web browser plugin for Mac OS X. Novell and others are handling Linux. So the Linux people get an artificial delta anyway. Yay for them.

But why? It's not just to push .NET, Microsoft could have done that years ago by fully backing Mono. What does Silverlight do?

Well, first, it makes sure that Microsoft has better controls over the dev environments. That's a big one. If they can get the major content providers over to Windows, then pull the plug on the non-Windows plugins, it will be at least a year, maybe two for anyone who went down that path to get back to being able to do cross - platform code. (If you don't think Microsoft would force you to only use the newest plugins, you have no clue about the history of that company.)

Secondly, and more importantly I think, it preserves and spreads Windows Media DRM, and it does so in a way that really sandboxes the content. What's the biggest complaint people have with Windows Media DRM these days? Well, if you're not running a Microsoft OS, you're kinda fuxx0r3d if you want to use it. But Silverlight makes that all go away. Now, you can provide Windows Media content with all the DRM you like, and best of all, it's locked to the browser. You can't save it to your hard drive! Well, not easily. The entire executive staff of NBC/Universal just came in their pants. Not only does Silverlight force a subscription model, but best of all, it's a more restrictive model with per - use approval. You could easily charge for every viewing of content with Silverlight, and the only way to get around that is to try and copy the video / audio stream to a local file. That's a lot of fun. Wait, no, it isn't.

Silverlight is the best thing to happen to DRM in years, which makes it the best thing to happen to Windows Media in years.

The sad thing is, while Microsoft and others try to push DRM, even with Silverlight, the rest of the world is realizing that DRM just doesn't work worth a crap, never will, and is figuring out better ways to deal with it that don't screw over the consumers. It's the last gasp of a dying model. If Microsoft really wants to make Windows Media universal, just open it up more. You can make tons of money with it, even when you aren't fucking over your users.

But Microsoft is incapable of being radical or even coming up with a new idea anymore, so they go down the IBM path, but they're still following IBM in the pre-Gerstner years. (No, The Man Who Invented Notes is not going to make it all better, get over it.)

They should have just called it "Blackout", because that's far closer to what it is really for.
monk john

No, HackMac, this is not in fact, a bug


Le Sigh

I really, really wish that before people freaked out about a "major security flaw", that they'd learn how the thing they're flipping out about works. The latest round in OMGWTFKHAAAAAAAN!!!111 bingo is's article about Single User Mode and the .AppleSetupDone file. In a nutshell, they discovered that booting single-user and deleting the .AppleSetupDone file will cause the Mac OS X Setup Assistant, (the one you see on a brand new Mac or new OS install) to run, allowing you to create a new user "without knowing the current administrator password". According to HackMac, this is a "major security flaw":
Here's how to create an admin account with knowing the current administrator password.

This is a major security flaw, but it is used nowadays by tech support if something happened and your computer crashed, or something got messed up with your password.

First of all, no it's not a major security flaw. It's how the OS has worked with regard to knowing if it needed to run the initial setup assistant or not. A quick Google search of .AppleSetupDone pulls up references on doing this from 2001. has a post from Sunday, April 22, 2001 about this, because it's part of recovering from a hosed NetInfo database. This is not new. At all. Nor does Apple hide this information. A quick search for that file name on Apple's support site yields 4 quick hits in three documents on this
  1. Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server: How to Replace the NetInfo Database, which talks about this procedure in some detail

  2. Mac OS X Server 10.1.5 for Xserve: How to Reset the Administrator Password, which, like #1, dates back to 2002, and is specifically targeted at the very thing that HackMac decries as a "major security hole".

  3. Setting up Mac OS X Server for Xserve has this info too.

if this is some kind of "major security hole", it's the worst-hidden one in history. But then, it's not a hole. First of all, to do this all the way, you have to have physical access to the machine in question, to start Single - User Mode, or SUM. If I have that kind of unfettered, unmonitored access to a system, I can do far worse things than add a new administrator account via the setup assistant. That's actually the lame way to do it, because it's loud and slow. Far more effective to partially bring the system up, then just do it via the proper command line tools, which would also allow me to better hide the damned thing. Or just enable root on the box. For that matter, I can just boot off an OS install disk, and change the administrator password that way.

The point is, once you have unfettered physical access to the box, all bets are off. Your only hope is encryption, and that still relies on the quality of the password/passphrase.

As far as SUM letting me do this, well, that's what SUM's for. If you don't like people getting access to SUM, then set up an Open Firmware or EFI password, and lock access to the innards of your desktops. But once someone has SUM access and time, well, it's just their skills between you and an owned box.

But no, this is not a major security flaw, no matter what HackMac says. That article has some issues anyway. This part:
Step 6: Setup the computer. Select "DO NOT TRANSFER MY DATA". Don't worry, all your old stuff will still be there. Choose your internet connection and network, here is where you need your WEP or security password if you have one.
No, actually, you don't need this at all. That part is bypassable.

For a site about "hacking", HackMac needs to spend a little more time on why, so they understand what's going on before they start chicken littling things.
monk john

On the iPod/iPhone announcement

New colors for shuffles.

Redesigned Nano, for better video, 4GB for $149, 8GB for $199.

iPod, now iPod "Classic" in 80GB and 160GB sizes, for $249 and $349 respectively.

iPod "Touch", an iPhone without the phone part, with WiFi, in 8GB and 16GB for $299 and $399.

WiFi iTunes Store for the Touch and the iPhone.

WiFi deal with Starbuck's.

$200 dollar price drop on the iPhone, both models, with the 4GB model being discontinued, so the 8GB is now $399.

That thudding sound you hear is the Zune.

Hitting bottom.

"But we dropped the price of the 30GB Zune to $199!" says the Zune team.

Alas, they may have brought a sharper knife to the fight, but as the amazingly apt Andy Ihnatko said, Apple brought a cannon. That's the difference between being an innovator and a wannabe. I think Microsoft may want to rethink that Zune strategy which seems to be "make shitty versions of great products, and hope the people making the great products never improve theirs again".

Thus far, it's not working real well.
monk john

What a good design gets you

Now, most of you know I'm getting married, and that my Fiancee is an artist and graphic designer. What you may not know is that she works for the Osceola County Library system in well, Osceola County FL. One of the big projects that she and one of her coworkers have been the primary people on is a redesign of the Library system's web site. That link I have to it is the new design.

A lot of times, people do redesigns because well, they think they should. But they are never quite sure what it will get them.

In the library's case, the benefits of the redesign are clear, and obvious. In the months prior to the rollout of the new design, average hit count was around 12,500 hits per month. (I forget page views or unique visitors) Not bad.

The first full month with the new design? Over ninety-five thousand hits. That's right. From 12,500 to over 95,000. With a significant percentage of users hanging out on the site for over five minutes. An almost-eightfold increase in hits, and longer loyalty numbers. That's what a good design got them. Will those numbers hold in the long run? Hard to say, but that's not a bad start.