Category Archives: Software

The EU/Microsoft Browser Ballot Saga: The Final Chapter

Yesterday marks the day that the EU/Microsoft Antitrust probe came to end as the European Commission approved Microsoft’s Browser Ballot plan. In this plan, users of Windows XP, Vista and 7 in the European Economic Area will receive a choice through Windows Update as to which browser they would like to install. According to Tom’s, the browsers are: Opera, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, AOL, Maxthon, K-Meleon, Flock, Avant Browser, Sleipnir, Slim Browser and Internet Explorer.

The agreement will remain in place for at least five years and the EC will make a review after two years. If Microsoft violates the agreement, they will be fine up to 10% of it’s annual income. However, the EC does not have to prove that Microsoft has violated antitrust rules in order to fine Microsoft.

Say what??? It’s bad enough that the EC has wasted EU taxpayer money and time with this witch hunt but now the EC can gank money from Microsoft by simply saying, “Hey, you are not doing what you agreed on. We got this email from the people at Opera saying so!” What a load. To be frank, Microsoft should have packed up business, flipped the EU the bird and said, “Good luck with Ubuntu, assholes!”

Ugh! I will end this post by linking you to my previous post on this subject. My opinion on this subject is documented there.

No Anti-Virus Warning Message + No In-Your-Face UAC = Less Secure Windows 7

Get this formula? Well this is the basic formula thrown out by Trend Micro CTO, Raimund Genes, in an interview with The Register. Genes also said that out of the box, Windows Vista is better than Windows 7. Let’s go over his reasoning.

After install, Windows 7 does not warn users to install an Anti-Virus program.

This depends on what you consider a “warning” to be. For instance, a pop up balloon appeared above the system tray when I first booted into Windows 7 telling me that I had a potential security problem. When I clicked on the balloon, the Windows Security window appeared showing me my problems which was the lack of an Anti-Virus program. It wasn’t a flashing red screen with words like, “OMGZ! DANGER ANTI-VIRUS NEEDED! GET NOW WTF!” but, it was something.

My problem with this is that the average user has been aware of viruses, malware and other coded shenanigans for about a decade. It has become standard for a Windows user to install Anti-Virus software onto a computer after installation of Windows. Any user that still does not know to do this will eventually have someone tell them to do it or they will find out the hard way. The latter is unavoidable and something, I think, the IT community has gotten used to.

Where’s the UAC?

Windows 7 UAC File Extension ChangeMr. Genes says that Microsoft sacrificed security for usability. In Windows 7, the User Account Control has been dumbed down a bit where there are far less popups, annoying users with warnings that they were about to do something to changing something – from running an installation program to changing a file extension. As you can see to the right, the UAC works just fine when you attempt to change a file extension, such as .exe, in the Program Files folder. The UAC did not warn me when I changed an .exe file extension on my D drive (my hard drive is partitioned into C (Windows and programs) and D drives).

One of the biggest complaints I personally heard from people was the UAC. Apparently, Microsoft got the same as well. The UAC is a good idea but in Windows Vista, it was a little poorly implemented. Annoying people won’t get them to make better choices when it comes to security – it will make them look somewhere else for an operating system. Usability and profit were obviously involved in Microsoft’s decision but I do not believe they sacrificed security for those things.

Mr. Genes also thinks that a virtual Windows XP should be added with versions of Windows 7 Home Premium for security reasons. Windows XP was a good OS but it has served it’s purpose. I fail to see how this would improve security any and I think that this would only serve to confuse the average user and retard their adoption of Windows 7. Windows 7 is about moving forwards, not backwards.

Mr. Genes, to his credit, did not say Windows 7 is not secure at all. He merely thinks that Windows Vista is more secure out of the box than Windows 7. I disagree, because a few [hundred] extra pop ups does not make an operating system more secure. But what do I know? I’m just some random idiot with a blog, not a CTO from a security firm. 😀

The EU/Microsoft Browser Ballot Saga Continues

File under: “I cannot believe this crap is still going on.”

In another chapter in the ongoing antitrust-settlement saga between MS and the EU, MS has decided to revise it’s browser ballot system after complaints from Opera, Mozilla and Google. Apparently the browser ballot list (which for some reason was not in the version of Windows 7 that I bought) was in alphabetical order which put Apple’s Safari first on the list. Microsoft has changed the list so that the browsers are randomly placed.

Some thoughts

Am I the only one who is tired of this bs? Is there really nothing more important for the EU to concentrate on so that they can worry about what Microsoft puts in its operating systems? The last I heard, the EU has problems with how to deal with Muslims within the EU, Russia and energy issues.  What about the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Constitution? Or is this to distract us from the fact that there are far too many EU MPs and out of those MPs, there are those who have taken far too many liberties with their pay and allowance paid to them by taxpayers in the EU?

There are several points here:

  • Microsoft Windows is made and owned by Microsoft. I fail to understand why anyone has the right to tell MS what they should or should not put into their operating systems. How come no one has gone after Apple yet over the inclusion of Safari? Anyone notice how quiet Apple is in this latest chapter?
  • Thanks to Internet Explorer being included in Windows we have a CHOICE to download any other browser we wish to use. Does Internet Explorer automatically blacklist websites of the major browser competitors? No. Once again we are free TO CHOOSE and download whatever browser we like thanks to the inclusion of Internet Explorer.

I think the second point is the most important. Internet Explorer did a lot of good for the competing browsers. It did more than competitors care to admit and the numbers speak for themselves. The use of alternatives to Internet Explorer has been on the rise for years now. As I pointed out here, Internet Explorer has been losing its share of users and it is going to continue to lose users. Internet Explorer is a sub-par product compared to the other browsers. A poster child for what not to do with a web browser. Firefox blazed the popularity trail with tabbed browsing, add-ons, themes, standards compliance and security. It was because of these features, ordinary users began realizing that they had a choice. People in Europe made their choice well before EU bureaucrats thought they should get involved.

Competition and innovation were not stifled, they were enhanced greatly thanks to the inclusion of Internet Explorer. Still need examples? Gecko and Apple’s Webkit are only a couple.

Enough is enough. There is far more important shit to worry about.

Need A Reason To Move From IE6 to IE8? Ask The Kids.

Last week, on their YouTube IE8 channel, Microsoft released a video in an attempt to push the poor souls who are still using IE6 to move to IE8. If this campaign looks familiar, it should. Well, at least in the States it should look familiar. Microsoft used kids in it’s campaign to inform the masses that Windows 7 was coming.

A brief history from my POV…

Internet Explorer has been a pain for web developers everywhere for years now. Back in the days, Microsoft had the intention to remake the web the way they wanted. Microsoft had an advantage with the fact that Internet Explorer was bundled with Windows. While regular users were unaware, those who cared knew the effects of Internet Explorer on the internet. These effects can be listed as effects on security and effects on standardizing the development of web pages and the programs that are written for these web sites.

A group called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) drafts “standards” which define how web pages can be developed. They also define programming methods for web programming languages. While Internet Explorer has adhered to a good deal of these standards, Microsoft has developed Internet Explorer in a way that goes against these standards by making it’s own rules for web sites.

In the early days of commercial web development, most developers would either make web sites that would either work correctly in Internet Explorer or Netscape – the major competitor to IE, or both. This was a challenge for two reasons: 1. Back then there just was not enough information widely available where developers could easily find the information needed to make web sites correctly. 2. As stated above, Internet Explorer came bundled with Windows making it more appealing to developers to just make web sites that worked in Internet Explorer without checking if the site worked in another browser. After all, everyone has Windows!

Along comes a Firefox…

Some years later, Firefox came along. Netscape was dying a quick death. It had been beaten hands down by Internet Explorer which was enjoying well over 90% of the browser market and was eventually sold off to AOL. Firefox appealed to people because it was more secure than Internet Explorer, which was integrated into Windows. It was faster than Internet Explorer. And for web developers, it was nearly standards compliant.

Firefox was a godsend for web developers who now had a poster child to point to “Internet Explorer Only” web developers and say, “See, this is how the web is supposed to look like!”. Since Firefox’s release, other worthy competitors have come out with their own standards compliant web browsers such as: Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera. These web browsers not only have excellent support for Cascading Style Sheets, but they also have excellent support for JavaScript.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer continued to lag far behind. Internet Explorer 6, which is most at issue here, was released with better security (Ironic, considering IE6 and it’s integration into Windows was one of the big security problems pre Windows XP SP1) but little change in it’s support of web standards. IE6 still enjoyed widespread use and Microsoft saw no reason to change the way it approached the internet. However, because of the massive security problems that plagued Windows and IE, IE began to lose it’s lead in the browser market to the alternative browsers. IE7 was released with better (read: it’s ok but nothing big) CSS support and tabbed browsing – just like the alternative browsers. IE7 marked the time when an Internet Explorer browser was not part of the Windows shell – meaning it became a standalone program.

When IE8 was released IE’s dominance in the browser market had been seriously degraded as Firefox ate away at IE’s share with other alternative browsers far behind but slowly gaining. Internet Explorer finally had excellent CSS support but continued to have lousy JavaScript support. I maintain several web site and in the past year I have seen the number of visitors using IE drop sharply. The users still using IE6 have dropped even further.

Final thoughts and the video

It might be hard for someone who does not do commercial web development to understand the problems that I have run into over the years with web developer and Internet Explorer. Multi-browser testing is now a required part of web development. Web sites must be tested in all “major” browsers such as: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Opera. Throughout the time of commercial internet use, smart people have developed “hacks” in order to ensure that what a web site is supposed to look like, looks exactly the same way in Internet Explorer. This is not how it should be. All competing web browsers should display web pages the same way while developing ways for the browsers to render these pages faster and add additional features which will enhance your web surfing experience.

Getting all browser makers on board the standards train is imperative now. Microsoft, having been nearly defeated in the browser wars, is finally starting to realize that it needs to stand in line with everyone else. This is why it’s beginning this campaign. While this is a good thing, I don’t understand how this campaign will convince corporations and smaller businesses to move to IE8. I say this because there are, unfortunately, companies who use software that is specifically made for IE6 and lower. Upgrading this software for these companies will be expensive. The second reason is because IE6 will continue to enjoy some support from Microsoft for some years to come because Windows XP will have extended support until at least 2014. This is unfortunate and regardless what Ars has to say about it in that article, Microsoft does have some responsibility in killing support for IE6. After all, it was Microsoft’s fault in the first place.

Bioshock And Realtek HD Audio

Are you unable to play Bioshock because you can’t hear anything at all? Maybe this might help you. But first, let me give you quick specs of my computer:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
  • ASUS P6T
  • Onboard Realtek ALC1200 which is using HD audio software and drivers, downloaded from the ASUS support website
  • Audio ports on the motherboard and in the front of the Antec 1200 case via wire from port to motherboard
  • Bioshock purchased and downloaded via Steam

History of the problem

I first encountered this problem while I was using Windows 7 Ultimate RC. The sound in the game worked just fine until after the plane crash at the beginning of the game. Of course, I googled for the problem and it took me some time. Most suggestions had to do with downloading and installing Windows Visual Basic 2008 Redistributable. There were also suggestions to download an older version of Direct X 9. When Bioshock was installed, it also installed an older version of Direct X and Windows Visual Basic 2005 Redistributable.

None of these suggestions worked for me. I eventually found this solution via an obscure forum posting. For the life of me, I cannot remember the address so just take note that I did not come up with this solution all on my own. 😀

The solution

Just remember that if you are not using Realtek HD audio, this might not work. Not everyone’s specs are the same. It doesn’t hurt to try this. Oh, and I am not responsible for any damage that might occur for whatever reason.

Realtek HD Audio MenuIn the notification/status area of the taskbar, right click on the Realtek HD Audio icon and select “Audio devices”. From here, a window will popup. This window should have four tabs: “Playback”, “Recording”, “Sounds” and “Communications”. Even if it doesn’t have 4 tabs, make sure that it at least has the “Recording” tab.

Realtek HD Audio Recording Tab MenuClick on the “Recording” tab. In the picture to the left, I have two devices which are currently “not plugged in”. Now, right-click inside this window and select “Show disabled devices”. Any device that is disabled should appear in this window. Now right-click either “Stereo Mix” or “CD Audio” and select “Enable”. A green circle with a checkmark should appear next to the device. The picture below shows the disabled devices and the right-click menu to enable them.

Realtek HD Audio Recording Menu Disabled

Enabling the device in the "Recording" section.

Now you should be able to hear sounds in Bioshock after the plane crash. These are pretty exact instructions for a setup with Realtek HD audio. So, no one should mess this up. If this does not work, then you might be experiencing a problem somewhere else.

Borderlands PC Authentication Troubles

The PC version of the new “artsy” FPS coop game, Borderlands, was delayed for a week. This is fine and all but the problem, according to Ars Technica, is that because the “street date” was pushed back a week, those people who were able to buy copies of the game from stores have been screwed by the fact that the Authentication servers were not online. So, now people who have bought the game will have to wait until the game day the PC version of the game is actually released.

Another thing I wanted to point out in the article is the subject of software licensing and DRM. For a long time, we users have been under the impression that when we purchase a physical copy of software, it is ours. However, this is not the case at all. For example, when you buy a copy of Microsoft Word from the store you are only buying a license to use it. It’s like going to Filmtown here or Blockbuster in the States and renting a movie. The only difference being that you don’t have to return the Microsoft Word disc to the store after a certain period of time.

Both my wife and I are users of Steam. Personally, I enjoy the convenience of buying and downloading games from Steam right then and there without having to go to the store or ordering from Amazon UK, Play UK or CDON. However, I am worried about the day Steam servers go offline forever. While I have backup copies of the games, I am not entirely sure where it goes from there.