Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Should Apple Be Net Nanny?

This is outrageous. Not that I am denying that holocausts ever exist, or global warming is a fallacy, but I expect that a computer manufacturer should not be nannying for its customers whenever some imbecile wants to play a practical joke on people and get their computers to own up to hoax viruses and infections!

Because this sort of action would be teaching people nothing about responsibility when it comes to using a computer, whether it is a commercial server, a personal computer, a mobile phone, or even a games console.

Computers have fallen to social abuse ever since its inception as the IBM PC. People would fall victim to hoaxes, taunts and threats, while their computers would fall victim to malicious code injection from a floppy disk or, after many years, a network cable. And the people who abuse computer technologies are those who want attention, a fast dollar, or to disrupt or threaten others (or some other personal gain). Sure, clever, inconsiderate Apple II users would have partaken with the unsocial practices of cracking copy-protected software, but innocent IBM PC users had it much worse to the point of causing downtime, denial of service or even loss of control.

And the temptation of abuse will probably never stop. People making crap software and selling it on the App Store, or using In-App Purchases to harvest money from people without telling them, and the never-ending waves of Mac anti-virus promises that could do more harm than good.

One possibly good reason to invest in anti-virus software for Macintosh is to aid in defending against threats that could ultimately affect Windows machines in a heterogeneous network. What could be safely harboured on a Macintosh could be utterly destructive on Windows, so having anti-virus software running on a Macintosh can aid as yet another avenue of defence for your network of PCs.

However, it is always better to stop malware from entering a network in the first place, but that's another topic entirely.

The announcement that Apple are to provide support to customers for taking off the much publicised MAC Defender software is welcome to those who desperately need it, but to have Apple plant malware removal tools into future versions of Mac OS X is altogether another thing, and I certainly do not agree with this idea. Malware treatment is not the domain of operating system software... this should be catered for by support channels and the community, and this should be conducted as an educational effort towards people. For manufacturers to assume responsibility for what users do with their computers is not a good precedent to set, considering that other companies who have taken on this task are losing a constant battle in reducing the presence of malware, and is wasteful of development resources and talent that could be better spent elsewhere... such as hardening operating system software against abuse, inventing new technologies for preventing the execution of unauthorised code, and education and advocacy at a social point of view.

The more people learn to be cautious using unfamiliar computing services on the Internet, the less incentive there would be to make such invasive and damaging malware in the first place. Making tools that hide such malice would only reduce the obviousness of the social disorder around us all. Of course, people should get the help they need when a disaster occurs, but I don't think computer systems manufacturers should be responsible for playing the role as nanny to its customers.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Watching Skype Fall.

I have seen products taken over by marge companies, only to see them die a slow and painful death due to lost direction, bad leadership and sheer greed. First, you have Karelia Software's Watson (completely devoured by Sun Microsystems and outright plagiarised by Apple Computer as an inferior product) and then Konfabulator (left to languish by Yahoo!). Both products lost any opportunities to see great potential in the markets they were born in, all thanks to large companies acquiring, then neglecting the products they were supposedly interested in.

Now, there is yet another product—no, actually, an entire Web service—that is about to suffer the same fate due to corporate meddling: Skype.

Should this be allowed, given Microsoft's woeful performance in marketing and developing Windows Live? In a way, I'd like to see MSN die a quick death as a result of their acquisition of Skype; frankly, their Mac OS X client is woeful to say the least, and with some Windows-only features that make the Mac client next to impossible to use, it makes using MSN unattractive to the typical Mac user (who may want to meet up with their Windows-using friends).

However, Microsoft could just kill what Skype have spent all these years building—a reliable communications network that allows anybody with a Mac, Linux, Windows, Android or iOS gadget to communicate to the best of the hardware's ability. With Microsoft now meddling, and certainly with Windows-only interests in mind, this ubiquitous Internet messaging system is in direct threat of being dismantled.

Microsoft are only in this to do one of two things, if not both: capitalise on their investment, and use it to leverage sales of their operating system software. And I think the first casualty of any attempt to homogenise Skype is Microsoft's current threat: iOS, or maybe perhaps Android (but I think market share is what's on Microsoft's collective mind at the moment).

I dare Microsoft to prove me wrong on this one.


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