Windows Vista Is Bad For You

Another well written article on why people should think twice before running out and upgrading to Microsoft’s (once again) “Newest and best Operating System ever”.

Windows Vista includes an array of “features” that you don’t want. These features will make your laptop less reliable and less secure. They’ll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features won’t do anything useful. In fact, they’re working against you. They’re digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment industry.

And you don’t get to refuse them.

The details are pretty geeky, but basically Microsoft has reworked a lot of the core operating system to add copy protection technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. Certain high-quality output paths–audio and video–are reserved for protected peripheral devices. Sometimes output quality is artificially degraded; sometimes output is prevented entirely. And Vista continuously spends CPU time monitoring itself, trying to figure out if you’re doing something that it thinks you shouldn’t. If it does, it limits functionality and in extreme cases restarts just the video subsystem. We still don’t know the exact details of all this, and how far-reaching it is, but it doesn’t look good.

Microsoft put all those functionality-crippling features into Vista because it wants to own the entertainment industry. This isn’t how Microsoft spins it, of course. It maintains that it has no choice, that it’s Hollywood that is demanding DRM in Windows in order to allow “premium content”–meaning, new movies that are still earning revenue–onto your computer. If Microsoft didn’t play along, it’d be relegated to second-class status as Hollywood pulled its support for the platform.

It’s all complete nonsense. Microsoft could have easily told the entertainment industry that it was not going to deliberately cripple its operating system, take it or leave it. With 95% of the operating system market, where else would Hollywood go? Sure, Big Media has been pushing DRM, but recently some–Sony after their 2005 debacle and now EMI Group–are having second thoughts.

What the entertainment companies are finally realizing is that DRM just annoys their customers. Like every other DRM system
ever invented, Microsoft’s won’t keep the professional pirates from making copies of whatever they want. The DRM security in Vista was broken the day it was released. Sure, Microsoft will patch it, but the patched system will get broken as well. It’s an arms race, and the defenders can’t possibly win.

I believe that Microsoft knows this and also that it doesn’t matter about stopping pirates and small percentage of people who download free movies from the Internet. This isn’t even about Microsoft satisfying its Hollywood customers at the expense of those of us paying for the privilege of using Vista. This is about the overwhelming majority of honest users and who owns the distribution channels to them. And while it may have started as a partnership, in the end Microsoft is going to end up locking the movie companies into selling content in its proprietary formats.

We saw this trick before; Apple pulled it on the recording industry. First iTunes worked in partnership with the major record labels to distribute content, but soon Warner Music’s CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. found that he wasn’t able to dictate a pricing model to Steve Jobs. The same thing will happen here; after Vista is firmly entrenched in the marketplace, Sony’s Howard Stringer won’t be able to dictate pricing or terms to Bill Gates. This is a war for 21st-century movie distribution and, when the dust settles, Hollywood won’t know what hit them.

To be fair, just last week Steve Jobs publicly came out against DRM for music. It’s a reasonable business position, now that Apple controls the online music distribution market. But Jobs never mentioned movies, and he is the largest single shareholder in Disney. Talk is cheap. The real question is would he actually allow iTunes Music Store purchases to play on Microsoft or Sony players, or is this just a clever way of deflecting blame to the–already hated–music labels.

Microsoft is reaching for a much bigger prize than Apple: not just Hollywood, but also peripheral hardware vendors. Vista’s DRM will require driver developers to comply with all kinds of rules and be certified; otherwise, they won’t work. And Microsoft talks about expanding this to independent software vendors as well. It’s another war for control of the computer market.

Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use rights for the content we buy, we’re stuck with DRM systems that interfere with all of our computer use–even the uses that have nothing to do with copyright.

I don’t see the market righting this wrong, because Microsoft’s monopoly position gives it much more power than we consumers can hope to have. It might not be as obvious as Microsoft using its operating system monopoly to kill Netscape and own the browser market, but it’s really no different. Microsoft’s entertainment market grab might further entrench its monopoly position, but it will cause serious damage to both the computer and entertainment industries. DRM is bad, both for consumers and for the entertainment industry: something the entertainment industry is just starting to realize, but Microsoft is still fighting. Some researchers think that this is the final straw that will drive Windows to the competition, but I think the courts are necessary.

In the meantime, the only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade to Vista. It will be hard. Microsoft’s bundling deals with computer manufacturers mean that it will be increasingly hard not to get the new operating system with new computers. And Microsoft has some pretty deep pockets and can wait us all out if it wants to. Yes, some people will shift to Macintosh and some fewer number to Linux, but most of us are stuck on Windows. Still, if enough customers say no to Vista, the company might actually listen.

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Linux Graffiti Spotted in Toronto Subway Station

As we all know, Vista was released last week with big events all over the globe. With these events also came huge wall size ads announcing Vista’s “WOW” to the world. These ads can be seen all over subway stations in Toronto. This morning on my way to class, I spotted this “modified” ad:

Now, while I’m all for Linux exposure, I’m not too sure about the negative image this may bring to Linux. Most people walking by most likely have not clue what “Linux” is and may now equate it as some graffiti tag cut-out that some delinquent kids made on top of some Vista thing ad. Hopefully I’m wrong. Regardless of what the general population may think of this, I have to say that as a Linux user, it gave me a good laugh.

Edit: The pictures are from Finch station.

Edit [2007-02-06 09:59 am]: It has now been removed. After closer inspection and more caffeine this morning, it is safe to say that I may stand corrected (It looks like it was a cut out). They removed it by cutting off the paint around the letters. It is now mostly a big square cut-out on top of the windows logo.

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Verizon and Mathematics

This is the story of George Vaccaro, a Verizon customer who recently had a very interesting encounter with Verizon’s billing department.

The bulk of the story is that George was quoted 0.002 cents per KB for data charges he would incur during a trip to Canada. After getting confirmation of this value from several Verizon reps, George made sure that this quote was saved within his file. Fast forward to a couple of days ago, George received a bill of 100 times what he was quoted for. Now, you might be thinking, hey, 100 times?, maybe they meant to say 0.002 dollars per KB instead of cents per KB? and you would be right, that is what George thought as well. However, as this humorous phone conversation with supervisors and managers at Verizon shows, they did not mean 0.002 dollars, they meant 0.002 cents per KB. So what is going on here? Is Verizon hiring people without elementary level education to do their billing? Is it really a “difference of opinion” as Verizon’s floor manager so insightfully put it (not!)?

After yet another confirmation of their quote through e-mail and their “generous” offering of halving his bill (I’m surprised they knew how to divide by 2), one can only guess what else is going on in that organization’s billing department. As of right now, Verizon has yet to admit their mistake and its employees do not know what the difference between 0.002 dollars and 0.002 cents is.

I have had my share of interaction with incompetence corporations like Verizon and it is time that their studpidy and blatant disrespect for the customers by upper management when they put scripted drones in the front is brought to light.
That is why kids, pay attention to your grade 4 teacher when she goes over decimals and fractions, specially when she uses currency as an example! It may come in handy one day.



Fascinating discussion by lawyers about this whole mess.

Hilarious cheque to Verizon.

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A friend of mine just sent me a link to Songbird. From the website..

Songbird is a desktop Web player, a digital jukebox and Web browser mash-up. Like Winamp, it supports extensions and skins feathers. Like Firefox®, it is built from Mozilla®, cross-platform and open source.

After a quick test on my main Ubuntu desktop, I have to say that I’m pleasantly impressed with what they’ve accomplished. I’m not one to jump on a new media player bandwagon as they all seem bloated and mostly useless to me but the simple fact that Songbird runs on XUL via XULRunner sparked my interest. At first glance it appears to me like a well done mix of ITunes/Rhythmbox/Winamp. I will save any further judgment until 1.0 is released but from a quick glance, it has great potential.

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Back in school!

After almost four years of graduating from Seneca College, I am now back in school. This time I am enrolled in Ryerson University working towards a B.Sc in Computer Science. Due to my academic and professional history, I managed to get a little more than a year’s worth of credits. Therefore if everything goes well (ie: I don’t fail), I should be able to wrap up the degree in three years. As expected, I won’t be taking any subjects directly related to programming or technology for the next few semesters as I have been granted credits for almost all required programming courses, however, I am having fun in all the non-programming courses such as: Physics, Calculus, Discrete Mathematics, Management, and French. I have the feeling my coffee drinking days will be coming back soon. I am still working as a contractor at Commercial Design, although in a more isolated and less time consuming role. All in all I’m very happy to be back at school working towards this goal I’ve wanted to achieve for a while now.

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Bye bye eXTReMe Tracking …

After many years of using eXTReMe tracking as a quick, and convenient way of tracking visitors, I have decided to stop using it. The main reason for my decision is the suspension of my account (without prior notification) for the simple fact of not having the link on their button. While I understand their interest in having a link and realize that it is part of their TOS, I no longer see the point in using them given that there are various others equal or better free alternatives one can use without the need for silly restrictions such as this. Bye bye eXTReMe Tracking, it’s been good but no thanks.

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Browser history sniffing through CSS & Javascript

An interesting way of fetching for the browser history (at least part of it) has been posted by Jeremiah Grossman. More than a security flaw with the browser itself, it is more of a clever exploitation (hack) of some of the DOM functionality offered by most modern browsers. The trick involves going thorugh a predefined list of commonly visited URLs (ie:,, etc), writing them out to the document as anchor elements with their :visited class modified to a predefined value, then traversing the list of anchors checking to see which ones have their css values altered. Whichever anchor has the altered :visited properties can be assumed to be a URL in the browser history.

Here is sample code that should work in Firefox. There are versions that work for IE as well.

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