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Beliefs Do Not Deserve Respect

by RMD 27. January 2007 19:51

 

Just read an article from ABC News that briefly distracted my from continuing my multiple part series on The FUDing of Windows Vista.

It distracted me because it made me mad. The story talks about how some Muslim cab drivers are refusing to transport people with dogs, or people with alcohol, because it violates their religions beliefs. But that's not what made me mad. (Although it did annoy me a little.)

What made me mad was the fact that the response to this, by most people at least, is that these people's religious beliefs deserve respect. Evidentially they deserve so much respect that it outweighs the legitimate needs of some people, such as those with seeing eye dogs.

People deserve respect, beliefs do not. If a belief cannot be rationally defended, it is not worth believing in.

I'm not saying we should go around banning certain religious practices because they can't be rationally defended. I mean, I would really miss seeing Catholics parade up and down Church isles wearing funny hats and swinging smoking tea pots around. That's damn entertaining.

But when irrational religious beliefs detrimentally butt up against other people's lives, we should usually take the side of rationality.

I would say it's a pretty safe bet that the Muslim cab driver can't rationally defend this particular belief, anymore than a Christian can rationally defend the belief in the Trinity, or a Jew can rationally defend the prohibition on eating shellfish.

I don't care if you cloth your beliefs in the armor of "religion", as far as I'm concerned, they're, at best, silly superstitions. And at worst they damage the very basis of modern society.

To quote Jefferson: "Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind."

Tags: ,

Politics

The FUDing of Windows Vista - Part 2

by RMD 26. January 2007 18:32

My previous blog post, The FUDing of Windows Vista, concentrated on how the major tech media organizations are giving Vista a bum rap, either intentionally or out of simple ignorance. But Vista reviewers are not the only ones doing their best to spread the FUD.

McAfee Several major security vendors, such as McAfee and Symantec, see Vista as a major threat. Vista's new security features will make it much, much harder to attack. Since these companies make the majority of their money from providing products to protect users from these kinds of attacks, I can understand why they would be worried.

Symantec Instead of innovating and coming up with new products and services to supplant a business built on other's mistakes, they decided to try and FUD their way out. McAfee took out a full page ad in the Financial Times that claimed that Vista will be less secure than previous versions of Windows.

McAfee's reasoning is that because Vista prevents direct access to the kernel via a technology called PatchGuard, McAfee will no longer be able to modify Windows at will to provide their services.

Of course, this also means that the bad guys won't be able to either, which is kind of the point. The most dangerous malware out there right now are of the rootkit variety, and these guys rely on patching the kernel.

Furthermore, Microsoft has never supported directly patching the kernel. In addition, Microsoft has provided a rich set of APIs to perform the tasks that McAfee and Symantec need for their product to function. How do I know these APIs work? Maybe because several other security vendors, such as AVG, Kaspersky, and even Microsoft, have already released Vista compatible security suites that use these APIs are work just fine.

Lastly, PatchGuard is only in Vista x64, which probably won't be adopted in wide form for at least another year. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft has a nearly identical feature in XP 64 bit edition, and announced their intentions to include it in Vista x64 several years ago. McAfee and Symantec have had ample time to fix their stuff.

The other feature of Vista that these vendors are getting upset about is the Security Center. The Security Center basically just gives you one stop shopping for all your computer's security related settings. In order to provide a consistent user interface (consistency is a key for usability, and when it comes to security that's very, very important) they prohibit 3rd parties from modifying the interface. Instead, if you have a 3rd party firewall or antivirus package, it will list them in the security center and provide links to modify their settings.

McAfee and Symantec didn't like that. Why? Because they want to brand everything they possibly can. They want you to think that the security of your computer is completely dependant on them. That way you'll be less likely to cancel your subscription. So they scream and yell about this, calling it anti-competitive, and claiming that Microsoft is trying to give special treatment to their own OneCare software. They of course ignore that OneCare follows all the same rules that Microsoft is asking McAfee and Symantec to follow.

McAfee and Symantec are terrified that Vista will make their business less profitable, so they're lashing out. They figure if they can scare enough people into thinking that Vista is unsafe, they won't have to spend as much time and money fixing their software and coming up with products that actually provide value to their customers.

Update: Be sure to checkout the 3rd part in my series of blog posts about The FUDing of Windows Vista!

Tags: , , ,

General Computing

The FUDing of Windows Vista

by RMD 25. January 2007 21:41

Windows Vista is getting a bum rap. The media is painting a picture of Microsoft's new operating system as a pretty version of XP with few new features that users will care about. This is the same media that greets every new ".1" release from Apple as if it were the second coming of Jesus H. Christ. These reviews of Vista are so off base, so ill informed, and so superficial that they border on gross negligence.

I'm not even sure on where to begin analyzing these "reviews". Cnet's review, which gives Vista a "7.8", calls it a "warmed over XP", and makes multiple flat out factual errors. They claim that "most of Microsoft's [security] improvements in Windows Vista are within the Enterprise or 64-bit editions," which is a completely ridiculous statement.

There are no security features that Enterprise has that any of the other versions of Vista do not. (Indeed, this "review" was about Vista Ultimate, which contains every feature from every version, with the 1 exception which I'll mention in a minute.) Vista x64 contains a single feature that the others lack, kind of. Vista x64 restricts kernel mode driver installation to signed/certified drivers only. That's it.

Cnet goes on to state that there are no "big-name software packages written exclusively for Windows Vista". Wow, considering it hasn't even officially launched yet, that's a bit harsh.

Cnet criticizes the new Start Menu and search functionality, stating that they "would have preferred to have access to Search directly from the desktop rather than digging down a level or two", no doubt referring to Mac OS X's Spotlight field in the titlebar on the Mac desktop. Let's see, on the Mac I need to hit COMMAND + SPACE, or click in the field, to start searching. On Vista, I hit the Windows key and start typing. How, exactly, is that different? If anything, Vista's search is easier to get to.

Cnet continues to make factual errors by claiming that "aero is part of the Windows Presentation Foundation, a subgroup of the .Net Foundation Framework, an underlying foundation for developers to build new applications.". Um, no, it's not. Aero has nothing to do with WPF. Aero is a theme in Windows Vista. Nothing more. They even make the very confusing claim that "Aero is necessary to create Microsoft's new, Adobe PDF-like file format called XPS (Extensible Page System);", which is completely untrue.

Cnet shows how incredibly inept they are by then criticizing User Account Control while simultaneously plugging OS X. They state that "While UAC notifies you of pending system changes, it doesn't require a password. The Mac operating system does something similar but requires a password--that's security." What? First of all, UAC only doesn't prompt with a password IF YOU ARE AN ADMIN.

Administrators in Vista are treated like regular users in every way (in fact, they are regular users) except that they don't have to type in credentials in UAC prompts. If you run as a non-admin user, you have to type in the credentials of an admin complete the UAC prompt, just like the Mac.

Unlike the Mac, however, Vista displays these prompts on a secure desktop. This prevents malware from fooling you into authorizing something you didn't want to authorize by simply displaying a fake dialog over the real one. The Mac has nothing like this and is theoretically open to all sorts of spoofing malware attacks. Is that security? If the Cnet team had spent any time researching Vista they would know this.

They go on to say that "the jury is still out on whether Internet Explorer 7 is more secure than, say, Firefox 2", which I would agree with, but they neglect to mention anything about protected mode IE, which is a great security innovation from Microsoft that suggests that IE 7 will be, by far, the safest modern browser you can use.

Cnet's review makes many unsubstantiated claims about Vista's performance, calling it a "resource hog" without ever backing up that statement. (And no, you can't just look at Task Manager's RAM stats and use that to justify your opinion.)

Cnet's review was pretty much inline with many other sites, such as Time.com and even Tom's Hardware. (And don't get me started on Walter S. Mossberg.) Time, for instance, closes their review with the seemingly insightful musing that "translucent borders are all well and good, but out there in the jungle, no one cares how pretty you are." No kidding. If you guys were so concerned about Vista's security, why didn't you spend a little more time researching the many innovations and improvements Vista has in terms of security instead of trying to come up with more ways to mention Apple in your review? They have the gall to title their review "Windows Vista: why nobody cares." Maybe nobody cares because you guys have done a good job spreading FUD.

These people completely neglect to talk about hundreds of Vista's features which will end up really changing the way we use computers. Whether it's the fact that Vista will usher in the world of IPv6 (via it's support for PNRP), or how it will change the way applications are written and deployed for Windows via technologies like WPF/E and WCF. They almost universally ignore great technologies like ReadyBoost, SuperFetch, and ReadyDrive, all of which will make our computers feel zippier. And they're oblivious to things like Sideshow. And don't think that's the full list of features they're ignoring. It's not. For a full list, check out this excellent Wikipedia article.

Windows Vista is a great OS. If Apple was releasing an OS with this many new features they would be called geniuses and would be praised for ushering in a new era of computing. But Microsoft is not Apple, and so instead we get this FUD.

To be fair, there were a couple of decent reviews of Vista. One of them being from Paul Thurrott. Was his a complete review? No. But it wasn't willfully ignorant like the other clowns.

Please, go upgrade to Vista. Ignore these idiots. You'll be happy you did.

Update: Be sure to checkout the 2nd part in my series of blog posts about The FUDing of Windows Vista!

Tags: , , ,

General Computing

Cool New C# 2.0 Operator

by RMD 24. January 2007 00:43

Not sure how I missed this during my C# 2.0 reading, or during my hundreds of hours of C# 2.0 coding, but there is a nifty new operator available.

C#The ?? operator is essentially a shortcut for checking to see if a value is null, and if so, returning a different value. It's very similar to the SQL statement IsNull.

The syntax for this nifty operator is as follows:

string myString = (someVariable ?? "it was null");


So, in this case, if someVariable was null the variable myString would get the value of "it was null", otherwise it would get the value of someVariable. This could also be expressed with the slightly longer:

string myString = (someVariable != null ? someVariable : "it was null");


And that, of course, is a shorter version of the much longer:

string myString;
if(someVariable == null)
{
myString
= "it was null";
}
else
{
myString
= someVariable;
}


I like it! I have absolutely no idea how I missed this. I love this kind of stuff.

Tags:

Software Development

The Tech Behind MySpace.com

by RMD 16. January 2007 20:18

I came across an article today that discusses the technology behind one of the largest sites on the web. You may have heard of it. It's called MySpace.com.

Personally, I hate MySpace. It offers me absolutely nothing I don't already have. I already have my own web page and blog. I already have messaging via Trillian (AIM, ICQ, MSN, etc.) I have no desire to judge my own self worth via how many people are on my "friend's list". Etc.

On the occasion I've browsed to a MySpace page I've had an uncontrollable desire to vomit thanks to the world's worst web page designs. I mean, come on... for the love of baby jesus don't give people the ability to automatically play music and have an animated background. It physically hurts. Please, stop.

Anyway, regardless of my distaste for the services it offers, how it offers those services is actually pretty neat. The article goes into all the growing pains the company experienced as it passed 500,000 users, 2 million users, 10 million users, all the way up to 20 million users.

In summary, they use ASP.NET, C#, and SQL Server 2005. Their head developer has lots of praise for Microsoft and the platforms it provides. He mentions how they almost cut in half the number of servers they needed when they migrated their application from ColdFusion to ASP.NET.

What was particularly interesting is how they dealt with scaling the database tier. For any serious developer, this is a problem you have faced or will face in the near future. Case studies like these can save you months of work and millions of dollars.

Ironically this was posted on Slashdot, which is not the most Microsoft friendly site in the world. I'm fairly sure nobody fully read the article because the comments section hasn't mentioned Microsoft once yet. (As of about 8:15 PM EST.)

Tags:

General Computing | Software Development