Taking A Swipe At Skype

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Skype_logo

No, it’s not me who is taking a swipe at Skype. I use Skype a lot for communicating with people. I find it particularly good for contacting friends in foreign lands, which you can do for free, but also for making paid telephone calls too.

I have been using it for over a decade, almost from it started, and long before it was bought by Microsoft. Although other flavors have arrived on the scene I stick with Skype.

It’s the comfort of familiarity, something I wish the nerds at WordPress would pay attention to instead of continually making smart-ass changes that no one has asked for or wants. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it guys!

But getting back to Skype, it has now become a victim of the snoopers – again!

This time it has been told it has to appear before a court in Belgium because it refused to hand over customer data following a request for assistance by the Federal Computer Crime Unit of the Federal Judicial Police (FCCU) in a ‘criminal investigation’.

Microsoft acquires Skype

Microsoft has been very sensitive to appearing to buckle under when requested to release information about its Skype users ever since it was alleged that it had changed the architecture of the communications software to make it more “wiretap friendly”, something which it has always denied.

Despite Microsoft releasing transparency reports stating that it had not handed over the content of any Skype conversations in response to regular law enforcement requests, privacy and security analysts remain unconvinced.

Unfortunately, as usually happens when the lawyers get to work, the fundamental importance of this case – which is government’s mania for trying to remove the right to privacy of its citizens – gets lost in spurious legal arguments.

cartoon lawyers

Now, instead of defending the right to privacy, the court’s time is being taken up with deciding whether or not a VoIP service like Skype should be treated as a telecoms operator in Belgium. If it is then it would have to comply with Belgian regulatory requirements for telecoms operators and release data to the snoopers.

I said earlier that the request by the Belgian snoopers is in regard to a ‘criminal investigation’ but the alleged crimes under investigation have not been specified, nor has the identity of the suspect or suspects.

It’s another one of those government catch-all phrases like ‘terrorist activity’ or ‘national security’ that are used as a cover for intrusions into people’s privacy whenever they feel like it.

government Snooping

The result of this Belgian case will be an interesting marker for future attacks on the privacy of Skype users. My guess is that if the snoopers win their case then Skype should brace itself for a multitude of similar requests from governments all over the world. If on the other hand the courts rules in favor of the privacy of Skype users then the government will simply put their hackers to work and try to get the information illegally as they have done and are doing.

So it’s another one of those ‘heads’ privacy loses and ‘tails’ the snoopers win.

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RIPIE, YIPEE!!!

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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In my post last Friday that I called ‘Looking Through The Windows’ (click here if you want to read it)   I mentioned that the demise of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was imminent and Windows 10 would see a whole new ‘streamlined’ internet browsing system bundled with it.

Now it’s official.

Microsoft is indeed ditching Internet Explorer. If fact it is getting rid of the entire brand.

Microsoft has confirmed that it was re-branding its new browser, currently known as ‘Project Spartan’, when it is released in summer.

Microsoft-s-Spartan-Browser

As usual, the need to kill off Internet Explorer is Microsoft’s own fault. They have released a series of bloated and buggy versions of IE over recent years, every one worse than the previous one. Now IE has attained a very negative reputation with internet users, particularly experienced ones.

But IE’s death will not be a quick and painless one. Instead a lingering demise is planned. Why I don’t know.

Some versions of Windows 10 will apparently still be shipped with IE still on board. Presumably you will have to go through the rigmarole of deleting it and replacing it when the new version is ready. Possibly a reason not to buy the new Windows 10 system until they get their act together.

internet-explorer-9

On the positive side, the new browser will be free. Not because Microsoft likes to give things away for free (that’s not what made Bill Gates the richest man in the world), but because they started that trend when they were trying to kill off Netscape, which they successfully did.

Since then no one pays for a browser. Apple, Google, Mozilla, Opera and the rest are all freebees these days. Inadvertently I suppose Microsoft did us all a big favor.

The only thing that scares me is the hype coming from Microsoft.

Statements like, “Microsoft’s change in direction is a smart, albeit bold, and a symbolic gesture.” don’t fill me with confidence. It is the same type of nonsense that preceded the release of ‘Windows Vista’ and ‘Windows 8’, and if you read last week’s post you will know what disasters I thought they were.

So will a change of name, or re-branding as Microsoft calls it, mean that their new browser will be a good one? The jury is still out on that. Like everything else we will have to wait and see. If they stick with the name ‘Spartan’ the implication would be that the new browser will be slick, fast and not memory hogging. That would indeed be good and a welcome changes from recent versions of Internet Explorer.

Having said that, I don’t think Google Chrome is in any imminent danger though.

Spartan Browser 2

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Looking Through The Windows

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Looking Through The Windows

Have you noticed that Microsoft Windows operating systems follow a distinct pattern?

By that I mean that after a fairly decent stable version, it inflicts a bloated piece of trash on the poor consumer. Software that is invariably rushed out to the public before it is ready, or before someone in the company has had the decency to take it out behind the Microsoft barn and shoot it.

Invariably each new version of Windows is hailed by Microsoft as “the best Windows yet”. You can understand that advertising hype I suppose, but it just ain’t true, they only get it right about half of the time.

The other half, Microsoft takes a good idea and turns it into a bad one as it tries to be new and trendy and interesting. It invariably ends in disaster.

Windows XP

After a number of faltering tries, most of which I experienced during my long love affair with computers that I previously wrote about on this blog (click here if you want to read it), we eventually got a decent operating system that Microsoft called ‘Windows XP’. It was stable, did everything reasonably well, didn’t suffer from too many dreaded blue screens, if any, and everyone was happy, particularly business users which are Microsoft’s bread and butter.

I know some people who are still happily using ‘XP’ despite its lack of updates to fix security issues like new hacks or threats now that Microsoft has finally ditched it.

Sadly, Microsoft followed the ‘XP’ success with a thing they called ‘Windows Vista’. As usual it was intended to be breakthrough technology. They tell me it was the brainchild of Bill Gates himself.

Windows Vista bad

However, ‘Windows Vista’ had one big flaw.

To put it bluntly, it was a piece of crap!

Most people, with the exception of the idiots who have to have every shiny new thing that is announced whether it is any good or not, stayed well away from ‘Vista’, and wisely so. Just to see what all the complaints were about my curiosity made me load it on to an old machine. I persevered with it for a couple of days before taking it off my computer for ever, never the easiest thing to do with Microsoft operating systems but I did it. I had to. It was dreadful.

I continued happily with ‘XP’ until it was time to change my laptop. The new one came with a 64bit version of ‘Windows 7’ on board. I had read good things about ‘Windows 7’ and they were largely true. It was a good system.

Windows 7

In fact a lot of people agree, because ‘Windows 7’ runs on about fifty-five per cent of the World’s PCs. ‘Windows 7’ was a winner because it didn’t try to make a big splash by attempting to do everything everything else did, only worse. It was just a good stable operating system that worked.

‘Vista’ became a distant memory, people were happy once more.

But then Microsoft went and did it again.

Instead of allowing ‘Windows 7’ to stay on as a cash cow, their idiot designers thought it was time for a new breed in the herd.

They ignored everything that was good about ‘Windows 7’ and, in a nerd-like stupor of unreality, decided what the world needed was not something that they were familiar with and liked, but something they wouldn’t know how to use and that would frustrate the hell out of them.

So it was that the horrible ‘Windows 8’ was conceived and born. It ignored the desktop and most of the laptop markets completely and aimed itself squarely at the touch-tablet system, Microsoft thinking that was where everyone was going. They didn’t say so, but a big part of their plan was to try to get kick Google’s ass because its ‘Android’ operating system for mobile devices and tablets had become a dominant market force (80%+ of the market).

It could all have been so different if the arrogant know-alls at Microsoft had listened to what people were telling them when they did exhaustive testing for ‘Windows 8’ before releasing it. About 1.24 billion hours of testing was done pre-release and all the feedback ignored, presumably because it was overwhelmingly negative.

Windows 8

Needless to say, when ‘Windows 8’ did hit the market it failed.

In fact it failed on all levels.

It alienated the desktop and laptop users. Business users didn’t want it and ordinary consumers didn’t want it either. It was so bad it wasn’t even popular with the mobile device users it was aimed at.

Microsoft got themselves stuck with one of the least wanted versions of Windows in the history of the company and that’s saying something!

‘Windows 8’ is so bad it has even eclipsed the hated ‘Vista’ in the league of things you never want near your computer.

It’s not just my opinion. Microsoft’s share of the PC and tablet market on ‘Windows 8’ is only just a little over 10 per cent and quite a lot of that is made up of people who didn’t have a choice when they bought a new machine with this catastrophe pre-loaded on it.

So what have I got on my computer?

I’m glad you asked. I have ‘Windows 8’!

WTF?

No, wait, I’m not a hypocrite, not completely.

‘Windows 7’ is no longer available since Microsoft stopped retailers and PC makers from selling and installing it.  It has entered into what Microsoft calls an ‘extended support mode’, but this only means that from now on all you will get will be new bug fixes, if and when problems crop up.

So when I needed to upgrade my laptop the dreaded ‘Windows 8.1’ was all that was available. They call it version ‘8.1’ because it is 0.1 percent less horrible than version ‘8’, but that’s still nowhere near being even average, let alone good!

Of course, trying to regain my dignity and sanity, I immediately tweaked the whole horrible mess that ‘Windows 8.1’ is, for example, adding back the start button (like ‘Windows 7’), loading a proper desktop version of ‘Skype’ instead of the irritating piece of crap app that is bundled with ‘Windows 8’, and doing some more bits and bobs to make the thing actually work like a ‘Windows 7’ machine. The bloated and useless ‘Metro’ start screen is also gone and I boot right to my familiar desktop.

The only reason I didn’t dump the whole shebang and load on my old ‘Windows 7’ program was because the new ‘Windows 10’ version is so tantalizingly close.

‘Windows 10’ ? Wait a minute. What happened to ‘Windows 9’ ?

Windows 9

There are a lot of theories about what has happened to ‘Windows 9’. Personally I think Microsoft already had it in development as another souped up version of ‘Windows 8’ when they launched ‘Windows 8’. But when they saw what a disaster that was they just ditched the whole thing and put all their efforts into ‘Windows 10’.

The official line from Microsoft says they have called the new operating system ‘Windows 10’ because they wanted to emphasize that it is is not a simple step up from ‘Windows 8’ but is a huge change for the company from the way they build Windows to how it will be deployed.

In plain English what that means is that Microsoft themselves know what a crappy program ‘Windows 8’ was and are trying to put some distance even in their numbering system between it and their new baby.

Windows 10

That aside, from what I have read so far, ‘Windows 10’ is a step back towards ‘Windows 7’ rather than a move ahead to where ‘Windows 8’ was trying to go. In other words, ‘Windows 10’ is bringing back the parts of the Windows desktop stupidly dumped by the designers of ‘Windows 8’.

At last Microsoft has hit the reality wall with a big slap and realized that safe and familiar is what the vast majority of their consumers want. The detestable immersive UI experience that forced bewildered users into the flawed ‘Metro’ world is gone and the desktop environment is back. And so is the beloved start button – hurrah!

Sanity has returned!

No, wait a minute, this is Microsoft what are you thinking?

‘Metro’ is still there, although in a much toned down version, with ‘Metro-looking’ apps that can be run in the desktop environment.

Apparently Microsoft has also integrated its digital assistant ‘Cortana’, the rival to Apple’s ‘Siri’ and Google’s ‘Now’, which made its debut on the unwanted ‘Windows Phone’. On the phones, ‘Cortana’ is used for voice-activated calls and searches, mapping, location and to launch apps. I’m guessing it will be on ‘Windows 10’ for the same reasons, but how much use people will make of it remains to be seen and heard.

I have also read that with ‘Windows 10’ comes a new Windows browser, codenamed ‘Spartan’, which may or may not integrate with ‘Cortana’. If it is a better browser than IE that will be a good thing, but don’t hold your breath on that score, after all IE versions just kept getting worse and worse when compared to something like ‘Google Chrome’. Another point against it in my book is that it has been designed as an app rather than a proper program so the jury is still out on it. I think I’ll still be using ‘Google Chrome’!

It is a bit obvious that the idea of adding these, really unnecessary, features, to ‘Windows 10’ is an attempt by Microsoft glamorize the new operating system and, by no means least, a smoke and mirrors attempt by the company to divert attention away from the fact that it has stuffed ‘Windows 8’ in the bin where it always belonged.

So for now we just to wait and hope. On past performance, after such a turkey as ‘Windows 8’, the next Microsoft version of its operating system should be good. It has to be better. It wouldn’t be possible to do worse.

But you never know for sure with Microsoft.

One final thought.

If your name was ‘Gates’ why would you call your operating system ‘Windows’ instead? Did he suspect right from the start that there would be embarrassing catastrophes ahead and didn’t want his family name associated with them?

As I said, just a thought.

open-gate-meadow-field-peaceful-43309059

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I Spy With Your Little ‘i’ – A Free And Open Internet?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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internet surveillance

When the internet was born it was a tool of the military establishment.

Then it broke out of that stranglehold and escaped into a world of freedom of expression and communication for everyone.

Never before had a system like this been available to the general public. Never before had it been so easy to find information, search for friends, communicate with groups with similar interests, etc. Its popularity was assured.

The world wide web developed at break neck speed, much too quick for the people who hate and detest freedom. They were confounded.

It was a free and open internet.

world wide web

So how could it ever go wrong?

Well, as with the financial crisis, when you dig down a bit you find the Clinton administration again as the culprit.

During the 1990s, when the World Wide Web was first being woven into social and cultural life, internet companies and corporate advertisers lobbied the Clinton administration to minimize privacy restrictions, so that they could re-engineer the Web to enable commercial surveillance of internet users.

The warnings of public interest groups were ignored as social networks, search engines, service providers and advertisers lobbied hard against even the smallest of efforts at data protection. Motivated by greed, they ensured that commercial surveillance would be pervasively integrated online. They are still at it today, that’s really what cloud computing services are all about.

A few thousand giant corporations, like Google, have become able to capture information every minute, of every hour, of every day, from everyone who uses the internet. And they can’t stop because their profit strategies totally rely on accumulating user data.

google for profit surveillance

Thus began the surveillance society. The government saw how easy this could now be done and began to catch up fast. If there was snooping to be done, they were not to be left out in the cold.

Until Edward Snowden, who had been a computer consultant working for a subcontractor to the US National Security Agency (NSA), copied several hundred thousand classified documents relating to surveillance programs being conducted by the US and its allies in the name of the war on terror, and sent them to journalists, nobody really understood the level of snooping that was going on.

Most of it was unnecessary, intrusive, unproductive and immoral, and after Snowden’s revelations nobody believed the United States government was totally innocent of any wrongdoing.

ennesssseh

Further revelations published since have helped to reveal a surveillance system that intrudes into almost every facet of our private lives. Privacy in fact is a thing of the past, unless you have the time, resources and knowledge to try to circumvent it.

If the government was only spying on the communications of foreign countries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, and if it was confined to what could be termed ‘unfriendly’ nations and their agents throughout the world, then I don’t think anyone would mind so much. It’s a necessary evil in today’s world.

But unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Friendly nations and heads of state, European institutions, the UN headquarters, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to name but a few, have all also come under the snooper’s gaze.

This has not only shown up the irresponsibility and arrogance of those in charge of the snoopers, and their lack of common sense and ethics, but it has also created even more ill will against the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an ally of the United States, was a victim of the snoopers. As a result of that revelation, the German government protested publicly its outrage. It also terminated its longstanding telecommunications service contract with Verizon, directing its business to Deutsche Telekom instead. Two weeks after that it expelled the head of US intelligence in Germany.

The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, also took public stands against US privacy invasions. He, like Merkel, had also personally been a victim of the US snoopers.

Then the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to affirm online privacy as a human right, and in June 2014, responding to the EU, the US Justice Department had to promise to send legislation to Congress that would grant European citizens many of the (inadequate) privacy protections accorded to US citizens.

Bad enough not trusting your supposed ‘allies’, but US intelligence agencies have gone even further. Now they don’t even trust the decent, honest, hard-working citizens of America who have never broken any laws, nor have any intention of doing so.

prism

The Prism program, for example, allows the NSA to collect data from your emails, telephone conversations, contacts, videos, etc., from major US digital companies including Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The XKeyscore program uses several hundred servers distributed across the world to store information on the activities of every Internet user, including your emails, internet searches, the websites you visit, what you post on social networks, and blogs like this. (Whoops!)

The list goes on and on.

After Snowden’s revelations, commercial firms like Google, Facebook and others scrambled to distance themselves by professing outrage. Their protestations had little to do with political principle but a lot to do with ensuring they continued to make fortunes by collecting data on us.

The US Internet companies went on a public relations offensive, and also raced to reorganize their overseas operations, to reassure worried foreign customers that they were complying with local data protection measures.

IBM, for example, committed over a billion dollars to building additional data centers overseas, hoping to ease customer fears that their data was not safe from the US government’s surveillance. But then the US authorities demanded that Microsoft, which deploys more than a million computers in over 40 countries, hand over emails stored on its servers in Ireland. Data is not safe and private anywhere it seems.

Last week I wrote a post about the Facebook/US Army experiment in trying (successfully) influence how people thought. (Click here if you want to read it.)

And so it continues.

Personally I think it is a pity that the powers that be are able to devote time, energy and money against people who have done nothing wrong, yet seem unwilling to remove child pornography and other evils from the world wide web. But the latter would require a decree of decency and morals that is sadly lacking in those who direct such matters for the government.

The US has lost the moral authority to talk about a free and open Internet, because that free and open internet has already been destroyed.

No doubt there is worse to come.

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They Say Pride Goes Before A Fall

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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So, if pride goes before a fall, what goes before a CRASH?

Well, in terms of the pathetic Obamacare web site, the usual form of words from the Obama Administration is

“…the site was fully-functioning for a “vast majority” of users.”

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CRASH!

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It happened again last week, early Friday afternoon in fact, as millions of Americans tried to get insurance coverage before the deadline.

I don’t know where they got the information that the site was functioning for the “vast majority of users”.

Well, I do actually. It was a lie. Another one.

In fact the healthcare.gov is not fully-functioning for anyone. On the positive side I suppose you could say that everyone has an equal chance of not being able to use the web site, but that is small comfort to those trying to do so.

And this is just the latest CRASH of many. Last November there was another major one. They “fixed” it, except of course they didn’t, they just got it working for a while, until it toppled over again.

Left in the hands of idiot bureaucrats who clearly have no idea what they are doing, no system can work efficiently. They choose bad designers, who use bad code, produce a bad product, and then are amazed and surprised when it doesn’t work.

There are tens of thousands of commercial web sites, like Google, Amazon, Ebay, Microsoft, even Wikipedia, that take much higher traffic every day without crashing – and they’ve been doing it for years.

Yet the bureaucratic bunglers can’t get their web site working for more than a few weeks at a time.

About all they got right was the timing of the CRASH.

No, wait, they even got that wrong, because the whole debacle happened less than two hours before President Obama had a scheduled press conference, helping to push his approval rating more and more in the negative direction.

But fear not, as millions of his citizens now find themselves stressed and worrying because they have no insurance – due to no fault of their own –  their leader will have a solution.

I don’t know what it is, but the odds are in favor of another vacation, possibly in Hawaii – but definitely fully insured!

President Obama Vacations In Hawaii

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