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Monday Morning Technologist
July is well under-way and it's time for another Monday Morning Technologist!
Reports of the Death of the Desktop Have Been Slightly Exaggerated
Lately tablet-mania has folks euphorically declaring the desktop dead...but hold on just a second. Yes, it's handy to have a big slab of computing power under your arm. Yes, it's cool that you can check your e-mail from Starbucks or look at your current inventory from the couch at home. But the fact remains that for a lot of knowledge work (ex: document creation) the keyboard and mouse are still a superior interface.
My take? Eventually what we'll probably have is something similar to what you see if you've spent any time in a Verizon Wireless store lately (and since doing anything at a Verizon Wireless seems to take longer than buying a car, you've probably spent a LOT of time there). The Verizon folks walk around carrying tablets and when they walk back behind the desk they plug their tablet into a docking station that has a keyboard, mouse, charger, ethernet network connection and, sometimes, an extra monitor. I think eventually many of our desktops will go away and be replaced by a docking station that your tablet will snap into. Then you can use a keyboard and mouse (and multiple monitors) when you want to, but still be able to disconnect and take the tablet with you when you need to be mobile.
In the office environment that means that some users will be able to be more mobile with their desktops - they won't necessarily have to have one particular desk since they'll be able to plug their tablet into ANY docking station on the network and have their station right there.
What's the big hurdle? Right now...the tablets are too expensive and not powerful enough for some apps. My desktop computer has 10GB of RAM and a quad-core processor and still cost less than the high-end iPad does...and the iPad does a lot less. Also on my desktop I have dual 22" monitors. No 10" screen can compete with that.
Eventually tablets will get less expensive, and more powerful, and more apps will migrate to the Cloud (but not ALL will) and some organizations will find themselves able to replace some of their desktops with tablets and docking stations.
The reality is, though, that the desktop computer will be with us for a long time to come. Not all workers NEED to get up and move around. Not ALL applications are well suited to a touch-interface or a low-power portable device. A lot of work still gets done by static workers banging away at keyboards and the desktop form-factor is still the best platform for them.
WordPerfect for IOS
Speaking of things widely believed to be dead, Corel has released viewers for WordPerfect documents that you can use on iPads and iPhones. They're read-only, which means you can't edit your WordPerfect documents only look at them, but at least it's something. You'll pay $4.99 for the iPhone version and $5.99 for the iPad version. In the Apple AppStore (naturally) or for more info click here.
On June 28th Microsoft released Office 2010 Service Pack 1. This coming Tuesday there will be another patch for Office as well as a few for Windows as the regular "Patch Tuesday" comes along. It's not a big Tuesday, could be as few as 4 total patches, but 3 of them are rated "Critical" or "Important".
The "Office" patch actually only applies to Visio 2003 Service Pack 3 - which I suspect means only a tiny percentage of users are going to care about that one.
If you have Automatic Updates enabled you should get the patches automatically. If not, you should. You can install the patches manually (and check for any you might have missed) by going to http://update.microsoft.com. It's important to keep up with your patches - quite a lot of the Windows security vulerabilities that get exploited are actually things that have already been patched...but the users didn't bother to apply the patches. Protect yourselves.
The app I want to highlight this week is the oddly named "Ghostery". Long gone are the days when visiting a website simply loaded a page of text and a picture or two from the server you connected to and that was it. Today's sites are loaded up with widgets, advertising and tracking devices. If you're curious (or concerned) about what the sites you visit are doing under the hood you can view the source code of the page and try to make sense of all of the code, or you can download and install Ghostery. Ghostery works with all of the major browsers and when you visit a website that has tracking widgets or adware like Doubleclick, Google AdWords or many many others it will give you a count of how many web widgets are on that page, display a list of them at the top right corner of the screen and give you the option to block them. You can block all of the trackers or just certain ones. You also have the option to whitelist a particular site or domain so that Ghostery won't block any widgets on those sites.
If you install Ghostery in Firefox you'll probably have to right-click your toolbar and select Customize, then drag the Ghostery button up onto the toolbar.
If nothing else it can be rather eye-opening to see just how much tracking is really going on. Ghostery is free and you can get it here: http://www.ghostery.com/
Which leads me to browsers. I tend to change browsers the way some people change things they'd change every couple of months. I have all of the major browsers installed on this machine and I periodically change which one I'm using as my default. At the moment it's Firefox on this desktop - IE9 on my netbook. Several weeks ago I was using Chrome as the default on this desktop - I may switch to Chrome on the netbook soon.
Lately it seems like Mozilla is on about the same schedule. Firefox 4 released on March 22nd. For those of you keeping score at home that's not quite 4 months ago. Not quite 3 months later Firefox 5 shipped...an aggressive schedule that raised a lot of eyebrows, especially among corporate IT folks who like to test new software versions before deploying them to the troops. Many of them still hadn't finished validating Firefox 4 when Firefox 5 showed up.
Well, the other day Firefox 6, Beta 1, arrived on my desktop. Not even three weeks after Firefox 5 shipped. And, startlingly, today's tech news includes a report that a build of Firefox 7 has arrived in the developer channel. What?! 5 still has that new-browser smell, 6 hasn't gotten past Beta 1 and we've already got a build of SEVEN? That's going to please the corporate guys...oh, yes.
Firefox is a pretty good browser. It's reasonably fast (Beta 6 seems particularly snappy) and boasts a pretty large collection of available add-ins to let you control (and secure) your browsing experience. Be careful with the add-ins though, in my experience when people complain that Firefox is slow or unstable it's almost always because they've loaded it up with dozens of add-ins.
If you want the latest version of Firefox...which should be 5, but could be 6 Beta, or heck, by the time you read this could be 8....you can get it for free here: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/fx/
Security Is a Process Not a Product
The first thing to understand is that there is no one product out there that can ensure the security of your systems. Actually that’s not entirely true; if you would like to defend your systems against intrusion from the outside a pair of wire cutters will accomplish that task nicely – you simply snip the cables of all incoming lines. Of course that’s not a very practical solution. Security is a constant balance between keeping your systems secure and being able to use them to accomplish your daily tasks. Generally the more security you add the more difficult the systems are to use.
Starting this week I'm going to start posting some content from my article "12 Things You Can Do Now, To Improve Your Security". Most of the tips are free, none of them are particularly expensive. All of them are a lot cheaper than getting breached. If you can't wait for me to post the first bits of it you can just read the whole article yourself here: http://www.officeforlawyers.com/lawtech/12things.htm
"DOJ: We can force you to decrypt that laptop"
We've been actively encouraging folks to encrypt all of their portable devices. These days with theft and identity theft rampant it just makes sense to protect the data from prying eyes. Well, not surprisingly, the Department of Justice is now asserting that they have the right to compel criminal defendants to decrypt the data on their portable devices if the court deems that evidence potentially relevent. There is some debate about whether or not such a requirement violates the defendant's 5th amendment rights not to incriminate themselves but I doubt that argument is going to hold up. I think it's well established that police with a search warrant can ask a defendant to unlock a door or the trunk of a car to permit a search; I suspect that the court will view an encrypted laptop in much the same way.
Of course, if you're especially concerned about this and you're using TrueCrypt then one option for you would be to create a hidden partition - not only encrypted but basically invisible. Then again, if you need THAT level of security you may want to give a second thought to what you're doing that you need to go to those kinds of extraordinary lengths to conceal. Be nice.
For more on this story: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20078312-281/doj-we-can-force-you-to-decrypt-that-laptop/
Twittering Away The Storm
As yet more destructive storms roll across North America (stay safe Chicago), Gwynne Monahan touched on something that made sense to me: Twitter is a platform where people tend to talk about significant events. Anytime there is a big storm, natural disaster, man-made disaster...people Tweet about it. Seems like if you're a utility wanting to stay on top of outages that it would pay for you to actively monitor and participate in Twitter. If a guy hits a telephone pole in his car and knocks it down there's an even chance somebody will tweet about it before they even call the police or ambulance.
Twitter is already, often, being used by utilities as another way to disseminate information. I think the savvy utilities are using it as a tool to RECEIVE information too.
I can really just copy and paste this one from last week...the "late June update" that Verizon promised to fix the HTC ThunderBolt's random reboot problem...still hasn't arrived. Maybe their programmers have to check in at the kiosk and wait for their name to be called just like in their stores. In that case it may be September before it arrives.
"My Mailbox is Full!"
If Outlook is telling you that you're at or near your mailbox quota here's an article that explains what you can do about it: http://www.officeforlawyers.com/outlook/questions/full.html