Monday, November 2, 2009

Windows Vs. Linux Boot Times Illustrated

OK, I've never associated the word "fast" with waiting for a modern PC to boot, but this video has given me a new appreciation for how quickly Ubuntu Linux gets itself running. It's interesting to see just how long it takes Windows to get from "logged in" to useful.  I guess there's one more reason I'm glad I made the jump to Kubuntu last year:

I suspect an identically equipped Mac would have performed very, very well in this race, too.

, , , ,

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Google Voice

I've been using Google Voice since before it was called Google Voice (originally it was called Grand Central). It's really, really useful. This summer Google Voice made the news when Apple kicked the Google Voice app out of the App Store. Describing Google Voice is a little tricky, because it really doesn't fit into a specific category.  It's not a VOIP service, and it competes only with the cell carrier's voice mail service.  Here's why Google Voice is so useful: most cell carriers haven't updated voice mail since I was using a Motorola StarTac (pictured) in the 90s.

So, here's what you can do with Google Voice if you don't have an iPhone (well, you can still use it, you just don't get an app for that):
  • Dial phone calls and optionally record them. People who live on single party states can use Google Voice to record their calls and Google Voice will even send a semi-readable transcript (more on this later).
  • Have a single number that hunts you down like a dog.
  • Sending text messages without having a cell phone. (this is actually super-duper useful)
  • Screen calls from people you don't like. You can even designate phone numbers as "phone spammers."
  • Have transcripts of voice mails sent to you.  Often, they are terrible transcripts, but it still beats actually listening to people drone on for two minutes before they bother giving you a phone number.
Typical Google Voice Transcript:
Before I would you tell Bob wanted me to shut the up and i mean he's making it sound like the culture like sleep in the last place or something. And it's only the first half of the in for the number point facebook on the board this year, but I still say their chances in the second half of better than most even wanted to get even. We'll talk to you.
Some guy named Bob is really pissed.
At least you get a phone number so you can call to find out why Bob is pissed. And you can record the call with Bob. All while texting about whatever Bob is pissed about.  You can get Google Voice at

, , ,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wait, What? Vista's Failure was Due to Security?

Everyone has a theory on why Vista was underwhelming. The most curious theory is that of Steve Balmer who said to the Telegraph:

"We got some uneven reception when [Vista] first launched in large part because we made some design decisions to improve security at the expense of compatibility. I don't think from a word-of-mouth perspective we ever recovered from that."

Hmm.  Something tells me that Steve is right about security being the problem, but it wasn't because of compatibility issues.  Security was improved at the expense of usability.  Remember this little Apple commercial that lampooned Window's security?

Vista's application security features were so annoying that it was laughable - and in the end poor security. Security expert Bruce Schneider has a  take on this as well:

"There was also the problem of Vista's endless security warnings. The problem is that they were almost always false alarms, and there were no adverse effects of ignoring them. So users did, which means they ended up being nothing but an annoyance."

So what's the takeaway?  Security doesn't work if users become conditioned to ignore your security features.

, , ,

Ding Dong the Witch (IE) is Dead

I've just been browsing through my client's Yahoo Analytics. Internet Explorer's fall from the dominant web browser has been stunning. A few months ago, here is what most websites would see (and Internet Explorer was Pac-Man):

Now, things are a lot different. Suddenly, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera have ganged up on Internet Explorer and stole it's lunch money. Here is a typical browser report for a client website from Yahoo Analytics (it's real time and Google isn't).

In short, Firefox and IE have near equal 38-42% market shares. Chrome, Opera and Safari are eating a big piece of the pie, too. This is good news for designers who have been complaining about Internet Explorer's major problems with W3C compliant code.

What is interesting is that smart phones and iPhones (if I don't say the word iPhones the Apple zealots will be at the door with torches and pitchforks) are not yet making their mark just yet in non-techie websites. The only places where I see little screens on this report is for websites that would be considered technology sites.

What are you seeing in you metrics this month?

, , , ,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

For Apple Fans: The Simplified Anti-Apple Response Sheet v0.1

After reading enough forum posts where someone challenges Apple's products, I've come up with a brief checklist (in the spirit of the famous spam solution checklist) that Apple fans can use to quickly and finally answer unenlightened challenges to Apple's products. Feel free to use this whenever you need it:

Simplified Anti-Apple Response Sheet v.01

You have posted a comment on an Internet forum, newsgroup or blog that in some
way has besmirched the reputation of Apple, it's products, users, fans or
employees by (check all that apply):

[ ] Questioning Apples Intentions
[ ] Comparing contrasting Apple hardware to a competitor
[ ] Challenging Cupertino's judgment
[ ] Misinterpreting consumer wants and needs
[ ] Claiming Apple policies are harming someone
[ ] Accusing Apple's design ethic of being inferior
[ ] Assessing responsibility for a design flaw to Apple

In addition your post exhibits a [ ]mild [ ] severe [ ] complete:
[ ] Lack of knowledge
[ ] Hatred
[ ] Poor eye for good design
[ ] Geekiness
[ ] Lack of design knowledge

The position you have taken or assertion you have made is dead wrong because:

[ ] You are not in the target market for Apple products
[ ] Apple doesn't care about you
[ ] You obviously have never used a Mac
[ ] Apple has customer best interests in mind
[ ] That would violate User Interface Guidelines
[ ] Apple is better than Microsoft
[ ] Your idea would ruin the user experience
[ ] Apple only produces products of superior design

In addition, because you made said post, I hope you:

[ ] Have a nice day
[ ] Are hugged by a roving pack of cute koala bears
[ ] Are struck by a car at lunch
[ ] Catch a stomach virus
[ ] Are diagnosed with leprosy, cancer or other terminal illness
[ ] DIAF
[ ] Are raped by a roving pack of cute koala bears

This form provided for your convenience by
Suggestions for improvements are welcome.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Call me a stickler, but I am sick and tired of emails that contain so-called confidentiality notices at the bottom of emails. I have some advice:


First, email confidentiality notices provide little to nothing in the way of protection and may actually may create a loophole in your non-disclosure agreements if you put them on every email you send. So you look like a douche bag, and you shoot yourself in the process of doing so. Here's what the lawyers say: Laptop Legal, The Connected Lawyer, Business Management Daily and Mr. Knowitall over at ExpertLaw.

Second, they make PR disasters caused by email leaks look like exposed conspiracies. You see, when they read your email on the six o'clock news instead of saying "in an email addressed to..." they say "today a CONFIDENTIAL EMAIL revealed that EvilCo had SECRETLY" which makes even innocent activity sound all cloak and dagger, in a very evil way.

Third, email confidentiality notices make every employee in your company look like a paranoid control freak with dilusions that they have the power to repeal entire Constituional Ammendments. And the reader knows your confidentiality notice has no power over the forward button or the submit button over at WikiLeaks.

Finally, email confidentiality notices harm sales and marketing. Let's say, Bob, my sales rep emails me a deal that I would like to refer to a friend who needs $1,000,000 worth of the item on sale. But your email says:
CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE -This message is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. and may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient of this e-mail (or the person responsible for delivering this document to the intended recipient), you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, printing or coping of this e-mail, and any attachment there to, is strictly prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please respond to the individual sending the message, and permanently delete the original and any copy of any e-mail and printout thereof.
I have to admit, I do get a kick out of reading these things.... Just for fun, comment with the worst confidentiality agreement you've ever seen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is Windows 7 Relevent?

With Windows release date set for October 22, there's a lot of buzz in Microsoft reseller community. I have to ask this question: is Windows 7 even relevent?
  • Many organizations have stated they have no intention of upgrading.
  • It's late to the party. In many ways the competition is defining what desktop computing is, from open source web browsers, to Apple and Linux GUI innovations (yes I said, Linux GUI innovations) to the emerging and widely popular open source and platform independent scripting languages that are rapidly becoming popular with developers and forcing Microsoft to support them.
  • Are consumers going to be leary of Windows after the debacle that was Vista?
  • What about the new low end - netbooks that turn the performance clock back to 2002 and may not have the muscle even for Win 7?
Then there's the question of winning the battle, but losing the war as computing becomes lighter and more mobile as Microsoft is in full retreat in the mobile marketplace:
  • Unix has had a big comeback between Apple products, Android powered cell phones and Linux powered servers.
I still have doubts that Windows 7 is the magic bullet for Microsoft, which seems to be a $600 Mac away from hitting a rapid decline. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wish You had a Surge Supressor?

Computers are inexpensive these days, but they are not so cheap that forgetting to protect your computer with a surge suppressor is a good idea. Take the example of the Nebraska BMV, who tried to go live yesterday with a new $2.9 Million data system that was taken offline completely by a power surge caused by a mylar balloon hitting a power line:

Mylar balloons, the kind that cost about $5, might have been the party poopers that ruined Monday's launch of the state's new multimillion-dollar driver's license system. -- Paul Hammel -

The result: the BMV went down hard and will not be back online until Wednesday. With no manual processes to back up the computers, that means that if you live in Nebraska and your license is about to expire, you are basically out of luck. It also means the vendor that leased the system to the state (and 30 others), L-1 Identity Solutions and the Nebraska department of Administration have some explaining to do. Even though they had battery backup (a UPS), they forgot to condition the power upstream from the UPS.

The moral of the story: surge suppressors are still relevant.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Google's Big Move

Google just announced an operating system for low cost netbook computers. Google's Android is poised to to take over the smart phone market (here's a look at new Android Phones you'll see by Christmas 2009). I've been working developing a few Android applications, and it's pretty clear what Google is up to.

This isn't about pushing MS out of the box. It's about getting into the application distribution business and extending the advertising business. Of all the places where MS has totally screwed up over the past few years, two stand out:
  • Microsoft missed the boat on the iTunes model for applications. Much of this has to do with MS reliance on their retail partner channel - which is about as obsolete as the corner record store.
  • MSN and MSN advertising have performed abysmally compared to Google. Mobile is a new and huge market - and Google wants in on the ground floor, a ground floor that would be fully occupied had MS done something better than Windows CE.
Enter Android's Market and whatever they call Market for the Chome operating system. Retailers sell devices, Google sells the software (splitting 30% between Google and the carrier and 70% going to the developer). It's a better deal than retail software publishers get, companies wanting to use the cell phone giveaway the device, collect on the subscription model love it, and it simplifies support dramatically by leveraging software package management technology that allows for brain dead easy installs and automatic updates.

There's even one more market to create: Ebooks, which to date Google has not entered but seems poised to do so. Netbooks make great ebook readers, as evidenced by the picture here.

So far Android has been a resounding success (18+ devices by December). Companies wishing to give away netbooks using the cell phone model are facing real problems with Windows - they get little revenue from software sales to users and have massive support headaches due to Windows XP's security issues. The combination of a free operating system, an Andorid Market like model and low support costs is a combination that distributors will not be able to ignore.

  • Here's Google's official post on the new Chrome Operating System.
  • If you want some Google Chrome screenshots, your wish is my command.
  • Yes, I think Android is going to eat the iPhone's lunch this holiday season. Too many devices (LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola, are you kidding me?) and carriers for it to fail.
  • So far as game support goes, if you are buying a netbook to play games, it's like buying a Y2K era 400 Mhz PIII machine. Gaming is really a non starter in this market so far.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Three Trends Changing the way IT is Done Forever

Recently, in a discussion on a local social network, Robby Slaughter, an Indianapolis business process consultant asked why SAAS (software as a service) is not sold to the Information Technology department.  The discussion revealed that IT needs it's role reevaluated in many organizations. Why? Because business has changed.  The workforce has changed.  The law has changed.  And very little of the change favors the strong IT department model that has dominated American business since the early 1990s. Here are a few of the changes going on:

1. Better Tech Skills.  The average knowledge worker is much more computer adept than ten years ago for a number of reasons.  First, there have been no big paradigm shifts (like networking, graphical user interfaces or multimedia) in the past decade.  Second, as the least technically adept workers retire, younger and highly adept workers replace them.  And finally, people deal with real IT problems every day at home.  In case you haven't noticed a lot of the technologies that used to be business IT problems are now routine household chores - setting up a NAS, changing firewall rules, dealing with security breaches, setting up a bridged NAT and backing up huge multiple terrabytes of data are all things that people deal with at home now.

2. Webification. Applications are being made to run in browsers, from a small number of servers, reducing the need for layers and layers of complexity on the network.  Making applications web ready also makes it easier to support new platforms like smartphones.  Complexity needed to distribute desktop software applications, access distributed database apps and manage thousands of desktops with local data stores.  In other words, IT's focus is becoming providing the enterprise a safe, consistent and compatible network that allows users to access applications from inside and outside the network.

3. The law has changed.  New regulations may make handling your company's own data an open invitation to a lawsuit.  Why not shift the risk to a third party?

4. Relevance.  IT is a pure cost to a company.  Sure, like everything in business you spend money on, it has an ROI.  But what happens when you can get the same ROI anywhere, for less?  This story is playing itself out daily as people consider replacing in house applications with SAAS, or look at moving servers to internet service providers that usually offer far better service, security and bandwidth then can the internal IT department.  The issue isn't that the IT department can or can't do it - the issue is that others are so much better that the internal network, software architecture and data centers may be as obsolete as a floppy disk - and simply not relevant to your company's future planning, aside being a case for change. 

So what does all of this mean? It's time to take a look at new structures.  Should IT dominate the discussion on software? Limit access to SAAS? Nix use of third part hosting providers? Or should IT look for ways to provide a platform that lets other business unit managers leverage emerging new models for software and service delivery?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Antivirus Is Not Enough

If you run Windows, Antivirus software is an essential part of day to day life. Recently, David Hall told BLORGE's John Popsil something that seemed directed at Microsoft's new and free antivirus product:

“If you are only relying on free antivirus to offer you protection in this modern age, you are not getting the protection you need to be able to stay clean and have a reasonable chance of avoiding identity theft,” he said. - Symantec: it’s dangerous to rely on free antivirus -

There are some very good free antivirus software packages on the market - free antivirus package AVG recently shared honors with Norton on ConsumerSearch.  For Windows users, the threats are bigger than just virus, and Hall made a very imporant point, "It means that you’ve been infected: threat has actually gotten to your machine. So, it [antivirus] is the last layer of defense that you ever want to have activated."

Hall's point is noteworthy because it recognizes that Windows threats have evolved to the point that infection and exploit may occur before any antivirus package can react.  Malware like Personal Antivirus (link to removal instructions and an entertaining description of how it works) are typically installed when you visit a compromised website that literally injects the software on to your PC through a web browser vulnerability.  Hall's company, Symantec sells the very popular Norton Antivirus and Norton Security suite, which includes components to protect users from spyware, email phishing and other non-virus attacks.

The problem is that security experts and the people that write security software may be unaware of a threat for months before anything is done about it.  This leaves users with a false sense of security.

This raisies a few important questions:
  • Have security threats evolved to the point that antivirus software provides inadequate protection?
  • Are kitchen sink security suites necessary?
  • Is Microsoft's new Defender product the answer?

, , ,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

XP Just Will Not Die.

Image via Wikipedia
Say what you will about Microsoft Windows - there is one version that just refuses to go away: Windows XP.  Last year MS tried to kill support for it and made it unavailable for new PCs.

Then netbooks came out.  $250-300 lightweight laptops that ran Linux.  Vista would not fit.  So what does Microsoft do?  Allow manufacturers to install XP.

Corporate customers never have been enthralled with Vista. It's not an issue of how good it is, it just costs a lot to support a new operating system as you have to test every last application before your roll out 500 new Pcs. So, MS has let companies downgrade

With Windows 7 on the horizon, MS still cant kill XP, in fact, under pressure from corporate customers, MS will allow downgrades into 2011

So what's the moral of the story?  Microsoft is still in search of a compelling reason for customers to kick XP to the curb. What's it going to take? In short revolutionary new capabilities you can't do with XP. Evolution just isn't good enough.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Android is the game changer

2009 is not the year of the Linux Desktop. It is shaping up to be the year of the Linux powered smartphone as Palm re-enters the game with the Palm Pre and most importantly Google's Android is positioning itself to be the de facto standard in smartphone operating systems. With companies like HTC, Sony Ericson, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Archos, Motorola and Yuhua all announcing phone and netbook products based on Android (there are a total of 18 promised Android products heading to market), Android is going to be an instant player and rapidly pass up the iPhone in sales. Incidentally, both Google's Android and Palm's Pre run Linux.

Android Strategy Parallels Microsoft in the 80s
Google has pulled off a coup: while others were focused on creating walled gardens and vendor lock in, Google has quietly built the modern equivelent to the DOS/Windows value proposition of the 1980s. Back then it was, "you make the hardware, and we'll provide the software." DOS and Windows weren't as nice as Xenix or later the Mac, but hardware manufacturers cranked out the PC clones because the R&D costs were much lower than trying to sell a proprietary OS. Users like the fact there was choice, and that choice led to competitive differentiation between PC manufacturers. Google's Android is uniquely positioned to deliver the same benefit MS delivered back in the 1980s that led to it's current monopoly of the PC market. Ironically, Android is positioned to take off where

Good Enough is Good Enough
One surprise is that Android is very, very good. It's easy to use, has lots of eye candy and most importantly is very reliable. More importantly, the developer's tools are strong and a vibrant community of application developers have emereged cranking out thousands of add on applications for Android. While Android comes just short of the level of eye candy on the iPhone and Palm Pre, it comes close enough to get people excited.

Best Bet for Developers
Software developers should give Android a long hard look as it has a promising future with a user base that is set to explode as the new Android devices hit the market though the fall and winter. Google has taken the time to provide a strong development environment and there are lots of open source applications to play with to learn. Because Android supports persistent processes and multitasks smoothly, you can create applications that are always on and always working (this is a particularly big problem with the iPhone)

The Andorid Market makes selling and distributing applications to users easy, and you are not solely dependent on Google's Market to sell your application - most Android phones can download applications directly from your website.

, , ,

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wost Practices: Vendor Lock In is Your Fault

Wonder why people think IT people are from another planet? Take this complaint about Google's Android Operating system from a discussion on Slashdot:
"The OS is still missing native MS Exchange support. Our company currently utilizes T-Mobile as a wireless provider and this is the single biggest hangup from us deploying the G1 handsets. I do realize that there are 3rd party apps that provide this functionality, but that gets expensive when you roll out 100+ devices."
First, MS Exchange support is not a feature of an operating system, second, choosing MS Exhcange is what is limiting your choices on phone handsets. 

IT pros need to get something through their heads:

Vendor lock in is caused by selecting vendors who use lock in to retain customers and protect profits.  It is not caused by the company that just came out with an incredibly useful and impressive new product that is not compatible with your locked up proprietary solution.

It's time for IT pros to stop blaming the new products for not being compatible with your software that "features" vendor lock in.

, ,

Friday, May 8, 2009

Shared Hosting is Still a Good Option

Cloud computing is getting all the attention right now, and rightfully so as it has great promise. Problem is, the cloud just isn't the answer for small websites with less than 200,000 visits.  Even when you cross 200,000 visits, a dedicated server may be a better answer.

Clouds come in thee flavors:
  • Systems that can't do parallel execution and rely on simple starting processes on different CPUs, much like Linux or Windows do today on a multicore CPU. That means the system can't really accelerate complex tasks, but can run a lot of little tasks quickly.  This gives you scalability for most web applications, but does not help with that
  • Systems that can do parallel execution if you use their software development kit and toolset. These tools, like Amazon S3, give you pretty amazing capabilities at the price of near ultimate vendor lock in. You will not likely be able to move out of the cloud today, or possible ever. While today's cloud solutions are cheap, it's not clear that will remain the case forever.
Here's why control panel based shared hosting is still very much relevant: a modern Linux server is pretty damn fast. And cheap. And requires no changes to code when you move. cPanel servers are a great way to get started . With a solution like cPanel, even fairly large companies can get almost everything they need.  Why?
  • Web server needs scale with traffic, not with company size.
  • Server features are pretty comprehensive and pretty standard.
  • So, if you have less than about 200,000 visits, shared hosting can be a great deal.
  • Most shared hosts are actually very good, even at $5-$10 per month.
Great Sources for Shared Hosting
There are lots of great hosting companies out there, but for the money these are the two that I use:

Incredible Hosting Deal - Linux based hosting, choose US or Europe data centers. Great support.
Lunar Pages - Linux, Windows, VPS and Dedicated servers.

, ,

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Email Marketing: The Truth on CAN SPAM

If you manage a mailing list, market your product, do billing by email or operate a social network, you probably have had at least one run in with a hostile recipient. You know, the guy who gets one email confirming that he filled in the "join" page and is going to report you to everyone ranging from the town constable, to his ISP, to Spamcop to the POTUS for spamming. Our hostile recipient probably has the rules wrong, the question is, do you have the rules right when it comes to spam?

Instead of wasting your time with my opinion here are the facts:

The Law
You can get sued and/or fined for not following the law. Read it, know it, and accept it. Make sure you know exactly what every email has to have to comply wih the federal CAN-SPAM law:

The FTC's Spam Site
The FTC's CAN-SPAM Act Site

The Blacklists
OK, so the law put some big limits on you. Prepare for more. Ignore blacklist rules at your own peril.  The penalty is your email being stopped cold.  Oh, and there's probably nothing you can do about it, so better to conform that be crushed.

Spamhaus's FAQ
Spamcop's Service Description - What gets blocked.
The SORBS Blocklist's definition of spam (scroll down)
MAPS Guidelines on List Management

, ,

Monday, April 6, 2009

Insanely Bad Headlines in the Tech Press: Koobface

News Headline: Microsoft, Facebook work to fight Koobface virus - Dayton Business Journal:
Should Read: Poor Windows Security puts Facebook Users at Risk.

Dear Mr. Dayton Business Journal Editor:

I've not seen a business periodical spin a tech article this badly since the old PC World days (when you could guess the editor's choice award by counting full page ads).  Koobface would not work were it not for users who will click on anything and Windows many security issues. 

Cloud Computing vs Dedicated Server

Seems like the cloud computing bandwagon is really accelerating. The quesion is, is the cloud better than good old fashioned, inexpensive shared hosting or just renting a dedicated server? The answer is, "buyer beware." Here's why: there are two kinds of clouds:

Application platform clouds where you write your website's code to the cloud's API. These types of clouds offer the best performance and scale easily. The challenge here is vendor lock in (there are no common APIs) and learning the clouds application programming interface and language.

Virtual machine (VM) based clouds. These types of clouds often run Windows or Linux and use the same tools you've been using for years. Convenient, yes, but a good deal? The jury is way out there on this one. Here's why:

First, if you are working on a low traffic (that means less than 50,000 visits per day), then the answer is the cloud is overkill and can't compete with $5/month shared hosting.

Here's where the VM cloud starts to loose it's luster: when compared to a dedicated server, you often are getting a virtual machine. That would be the same kind of setup as a virtual private server. When are on a virtual machine, you may be sharing time with ten to fifteen other users on the same server. When you are on a dedicated server, you just don't have to share. So, until you would need four or five cloud VMs, the dedicated server may substantially outperform the cloud.

Here's another trick with VM based clouds: you are not necessarily getting multi-site redundancy or for that matter, all your cloud vms may be in the same server. That's not very cloudy. In fact, many cloud computing providers are little more than a fancy control panel to very traditional "Virtual Private Servers."
If you were itching to put your next application in the cloud, you may want to hold off on that move. In some cases it makes sense to start your application in the cloud, but in most cases it doesn’t. --Erik Howard» Cloud Computing vs Dedicated Server | Erik Howard

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Get a Real (mobile) Browser

OK, pet pevee #1 for so-called smartphones: the browser is dumb as a box of rocks. That thing that lurks in Windows Mobile? Terrible.  The abomination that passes for a web browser on a Blackberry? Ugh.  Palm? HA.  Why is it that my phone has more computing power than my desktop had in 2001 and I can't surf like it's 1999?  I'm not sure what the answer is... but...

Here's the deal: most smartphones come with stupid browsers.
Here's the solution: Opera Mobile.

Here's what web pages look like with Opera Mobile:

Just like the big computer, right?  Here's the current asking price: $0 (at least for the beta, which is better than the browser built in to your phone)

GetOpera Mobile

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fix Your Home Network With Open DNS

Ok, so you are tired of Comcast's absolutely awful DNS. You also have kids and would like to at least protect them a little from the red light side of the internet. If you believe all the ads, then you need a bunch of security software, ad blockers, and anti-spyware software right? Wrong. Try OpenDNS out.

Here's how it works: it replaces the domain name server (DNS) your ISP provides. DNS is the "white pages" for the internet - when you look up an address, like, your DNS gives your compter the actual address (a bunch of numbers separated by periods). Open DNS gives you control of what kinds of websites you can access, and what you can't without a bunch of extra software. One really nice feature is that OpenDNS will help block sites distributing malware or phishing for logins to your accounts. Plus OpenDNS refreshes faster than the local cable company so you are more likely to get a website and less likely to get a 404 not found error.

Oh, and OpenDNS is pretty much free and it's used even by big companies:
OpenDNS, provider of the award-winning service that makes the Internet safer, faster, smarter and more reliable, today announced healthcare organizations across the country are switching to OpenDNS in masses for all Web content filtering and DNS infrastructure needs.
OpenDNS > About Us > Healthcare Organizations Across the U.S. Switch to OpenDNS, Get Safer, More Reliable Internet and Save Thousands Per Year

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Four Killer Open Source Applications You Don't Know About

Ok, so you've probably heard a little about Open Source. Chances are most of the websites you see are served using the Apache Webserver. You've also probably used the Firefox browser, used OpenOffice and maybe even have played around with Linux. Here are four incredible open source applications you can download and use for free. There's no strings, and if you want to get source code to the applications, you can.


Marble is a shockingly good "desktop globe" that includes lots of maps that works on Linux, Windows, Mac and eve Windows CE. Need a map you don't have? Click Open Map and you'll find some Want a quick map to see how to get to the local Tweetup? Use the OpenStreetMap Map. Tweetup on Venus? No problem, switch to Marble's Venus map. Want to plan a bike tour? Use the Bicycling Map. Want to see how hot it is on average in Buenos Aires? Use the average Temperature map. Marble is like having a complete collection of globes, a street map and even an old historical globe. Marble has been great for helping my daughters with geography and science.

Price: Free. As in free beer.
Linux: install the marble package for your distribution. Debian & Ubuntu - sudo apt-get install marble
Windows & Mac: Download Marble Here

Want an easy to use, totally web enabled and customizable music player? Ok, look no further than Songbird. Unlike iTunes, Windows Media Player and Linux uberplayer Amarok, Songbird is built on top of the Mozilla Firefox web browser - so it makes using sites like, Shoutcast and a snap. Songbird is shaping up to be one of the best music players around... and it works on everything.

Price: Free. As in free beer.
Linux, Windows & Mac: Get Songbird Here

Want to work up a newsletter or print brochure? Don't want to shell our $1,000 for software? Look no further than Scirbus, an open source Desktop Publisher. Scribus isn't a toy - it's actually a professional grade page layout program that lets you design print shop ready publications - newsletters, brochures, magazines, whatever. This is one seriously powerful program, and it's free.

Price: Free. As in free beer.
Linux, Windows & Mac: Get Scribus Here

Want a nice web page editor that lets you edit exactly as your page will look in a browser? Well, a few years ago there was a program called Nvu that did that - but the company that funded development gave up on it. Then one day a programmer named Kompozer is a very easy to use web page editor. It's free, and for straight HTML, it's almost unbeatable.

Price: Free. As in free beer.
Linux, Windows & Mac: Get Kompozer Here