It’s becoming more and more clear that Internet broadband providers like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, and more are cleverly shaping Internet traffic to hide how they throttle online video to home consumers. A great example in the linked article at GigaOm.com shows the writer streaming an episode of The Good Wife that is having bandwidth issues while she is simultaneously measuring her download speeds at speedtest.net. Speedtest.net shows she has download speeds of 28 mbps while her provide showed a paltry 1.9 mbps for streaming The Good Wife. The only way that can happen is if her Internet provider is purposely segregating packets that contain video and slowing their delivery.
All information that flows over the Internet are simply 1’s and 0’s, otherwise known as bits. It doesn’t matter what the bits become when they reach your computer. To have an Internet service provider prioritize some bits over other bits is discrimination and should be illegal. It is also a huge myth that video traffic is any different than someone reading this blog, listening to Spotify, or sending instant messages. All these things are the same bits being sent through wires across the Internet. There is no limit on the supply of these bits. There are only fast speeds and slow speeds at which the bits are delivered.
This news is even worse now that it has come out that Comcast made a deal to buy Time Warner Cable. This would make Comcast the biggest ISP. Cable companies are monopolies. There will be nowhere else to go for your Internet connection.
Kevin Marks compares and contrasts the Web as it was a decade ago, where it is right now, and where it possibly should be headed. He has some great observations about how cyclical the open and closed nature of the Web was and still is. He believes that we are in an era of silos, when it comes to the social web, and that with things like the indieweb movement the Web can once again be more open and distributed.
Here is his talk at LeWeb:
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Here is an interview after his talk:
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If you don’t know who Kevin Marks is here is a link to his wiki page. He’s worked at Apple, Google, Salesforce, and more. I sometimes hear him chime in on This Week in Google with Leo LaPorte, Gina Tripani, and Jeff Jarvis. This podcast is one of the best in terms of discussion about the Web and the cloud.
SQRL, if adopted and implemented can change our entire relationship with web sites and how we use them. SQRL is simple, elegant, and uses current technology which should create a low barrier to entry for web sites to employ. This just might be the perfect solution to the problem of usernames and passwords.
Usernames and passwords came along before the Internet and long before they became necessary to access almost anything on the Web. In a perfect world we should all have different usernames and passwords (and long ones that contain numbers and special characters for that matter) for each and every thing that requires them because if we don’t and some nefarious person gained access to that information they would then have access to all the places where you use them. But who has the memory capable of keeping unique usernames and passwords for everything? Just about no one. I was introduced to a solution that purports to get rid of usernames and passwords as we know them. It’s called SQRL (pronounced squirrel) and it stands for Secure Quick Reliable Login. I’ve read through the proposal of how this works. And, while I don’t have expertise in cryptography, I think I understand the basics and I’ll do my best to explain it as I understand it.
Unique Usernames and Passwords for Every Web Site
The SQRL system creates a unique username and password for each and every web site that employs this technology. To make it even more secure the user never needs to know their own username or password for the sites they visit. This means no longer would a person have to worry about their Facebook or Twitter account being compromised and then have to worry about all the other sites where they used the same username and password combination. It sounds like magic.
Creating a Master Key
In order for SQRL to work a person has to download an app to their phone or computer (SQRL app) and choose a master password. This password is the only one you’ll ever need and it should be a good strong unique password for this system to be effective. This password will be run through what’s called a hash function which produces what seems to be a bunch of random characters. This bunch of seemingly random characters will be called your Master Key.
Logging into a Web Site
When a person goes to a web site that uses SQRL the site will present a QR code and/or link to a web site address. Here’s an example of what you might see on a web page:
You scan this QR code with your smartphone using the SQRL app and the app will communicate with the web site separately and you would be logged in. No usernames or passwords are ever typed into any form fields. The same login method can be accomplished, if you’re at home or using a trusted computer, by installing an app or browser extension that performs the same task by clicking on the link.
How is this Done?
This QR code is just a graphical representation of the text of a link. Here’s the actual link that created the QR code above, https://www.example.com/sqrl?7b514d3f1d60e848d0b9cc024b9af0c98a92c60c04849771282a322e765f665a. If you scan the QR code with a bar code scanner app on your smart phone this is what you’ll see.
The random set of characters you see after the question mark in the link is a random number that the web site will create and this number would be unique each time anyone visits that login page.
The SQRL app will take the web site address (www.example.com), combine it with your Master Key, and run them both through a hash function to create two new keys. One that is public and one that is private. The public key ends up being your user ID and the private key temporarily stays in your SQRL app. The string of characters below is an example of what might pass as username.
The great thing about hashing is that no one can take the number above and go backwards to find your Master Key. But, you can take the web site address, combine it with your Master Key, run them through a hash the same way and produce the same string of characters every time. So it’s a one way street.
In the SQRL app the string of random characters that was provided at the end of the web site’s address gets encrypted by the private key (digitally signed). This digitally signed string of data is essentially your password and it gets passed to the web site where the only thing that can decrypt it is the public key (user ID). The web site decrypts the “password” and if it returns the same exact string of random numbers then the site knows you are who you say you are.
In essence you will create a different password every time you log in to any web site because the random string of characters that the web site generates is different every time the page is refreshed. So even if someone gets a hold of your new super long user ID they cannot compromise your account unless they have the private key. The private key is not stored in your SQRL app because it can be generated every time you visit a site.
I’m sure there are many things that I don’t have exactly correct because, as I said, I’m not an expert by any means in cryptography or Internet security. But I’m pretty sure I have the basics down. SQRL is incredibly secure because users won’t know their own user IDs and passwords to any web site. User IDs are long and seemingly random. Passwords are generated on the fly and can only be created with the use of the SQRL app and the Master Key. The SQRL app can only be accessed by the user’s master password.
If there are weaknesses it’s in the user’s master password and getting web sites to implement SQRL. A person can use anything they want for their master password so their identity can be as secure or insecure as that single master password. Web sites may not want to implement SQRL because it gives the user ultimate control over their information. With SQRL a user can be as anonymous as they want because the web site doesn’t need to know anything about them personally in order to authenticate. Web sites can still require a user to set up an account that is associated with their new superlong user ID and that’s fine for sites like Amazon or other e-commerce sites. But for sites like Google, Facebook, or any social networking site SQRL can allow a user to have an account but still remain totally anonymous.
There are way more details to this than I’m able to describe and if you’re interested you can follow the links below.
This link is to the creator of SQRL: https://www.grc.com/sqrl/sqrl.htm
Here’s a simplified explanation: http://www.sqrl.pl/
A good write up by TechRepublic: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/it-security/sqrl-a-new-method-of-authentication-with-qr-codes/
An explanation of digital signatures: http://www.youdzone.com/signature.html
I received my Dell Venue 8 Pro on Friday and my impressions over the last couple of days is this is the type of device for which Windows 8 was made.
To start, the form factor is near perfect. 8 inches is still a little too large for my taste as I’ve really grown accustomed to my Nexus 7. But this machine is definitely portable. It feels lighter in the hand than you might think and the textured backside makes this more comfortable to hold than my Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 has a slippery greasy sort of feel to it so the Venue 8 Pro, even though its slightly larger and slightly heavier, is more comfortable to hold over a long period of time.
Windows 8 really shines on the Venue 8 Pro. It runs smooth with no lag. This is amazing when you consider that this is running a full version of Windows that can run REAL web browsers and REAL applications. For reasons I have yet to discover Google’s Chrome browser runs better here than on my Surface Pro. For example, on my Surface Pro in desktop mode, there is an odd anomaly where Chrome doesn’t maintain a maximized window when switching from portrait to landscape mode. It’s an odd behavior that isn’t present on the Venue 8 Pro. On this device I’m running Office 2013 without a hitch and I’m also running QuickBooks. All the software I need runs on this tablet.
I’ve heard reviewers mention problems with the screen. Personally I’m not finding any problem with the preset auto display brightness. The device seems to adjust brightness for me just fine. Auto brightness is enabled by default no doubt in order to extend battery life. Battery life has been excellent so far. In normal use for me the battery is lasting me all day where I was at best getting 5 hours from my Surface Pro.
Are there negatives? Sure. But what device doesn’t have them? Here’s a short list of what I’ve noticed so far.
- McAfee comes pre-installed. Anti-virus and malware protection are embedded into Windows 8 and is unnecessary. It’s annoying to have to uninstall something that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
- Gets a little warm on the lower half of the right side. But with a couple hours of normal use I don’t find that it gets too warm. I mention it because I notice it where on the Nexus 7 I haven’t.
- I would like an on-screen Windows Start button. To get to the start menu there is a button on the top of the device where you would normally find a sleep/wake/power button. That button is located on the side. At the start of using this device I would wake it by pressing the button on top and then try to put it to sleep with the same button. I’ve conditioned myself to simply use the button on the side and ignore the button on the top. It’s not a necessary button when I can more easily swipe in from the side to get to the Windows button to return to the Start menu.
- I didn’t realize it came with Office 2013 for free so I burned my Office 365 subscription that I was saving for other devices.
- Won’t charge through a USB hub. At least the ones I’ve tried. But it dies charge through USB and that is a huge convenience because I won’t have to carry an extra charging brick.
- Lack of a hardware keyboard although Dell’s web site says a keyboard cover us coming soon. It’s not something I would use that often but I do know that I’ll want one when using it while traveling.
- Lack of a dongle or short extension cord that would allow me to easily connect a full size USB device. I’m sure something like this exists and I’ll be searching. If I can connect a USB flash drive it will make installing software much easier. Some things still come on a CD or DVD and I usually copy those install disks to a flash drive because my last several laptops lacked optical drives.
- There will be no docking station as with the larger Venue 11. It would be nice to dock this to a full size screen, keyboard and mouse for those times when sitting at a desk. This is a REAL computer after all and can take the place of a desktop for general use.
Now if Microsoft would just get rid of the traditional desktop and make the metro style desktop the default interface Windows would have a much better experience. My other request after using Windows 8 since February is I would like the ability to dynamically resize the split screen panels when running multiple programs. The pre-defined sizes do not necessarily fit my everyday needs.
After using the Surface I’m so much happier with this device. It’s almost exactly what I’ve envisioned for tablet computing since I bought a Compaq T1000 more than a decade ago. If you are considering a Nexus 7 or iPad Mini you have to consider the Dell Venue 8 Pro. It’s a tablet with that works like a real computer and not at all dumbed down. I haven’t been this enamored with a device in a long ling time.
p.s. This review was entirely written on the Venue 8 Pro.
This is simply brilliant. Kevin Spacey can see what the major networks and the cable and satellite industry can’t. Content creators want to create content and content consumers want to consume it. Give the viewer/listener what they want and give it to them at a fair price and they will gladly pay for it.
The only thing standing that may stand between content creators and content consumers is government regulation. How long will it be before the federal government moves in to license users of the Internet. The more they call it a public utility the closer they are moving towards all out regulation.
Forward to 2:24 and then 3:08 for a couple of great incites.
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I was reading this review of the 11″ MacBook Air on AnandTech today and came to the realization that Apple could now easily create an OS X/iOS hybrid system, call it the MacPad, and dominate the tablet/PC market for the foreseeable future.
The new Intel Haswell based chips give the 11″ MacBook Air 8 – 10 hours of battery life. This surpasses the latest iPad by at least an hour. Add to this the fact that the two devices are nearly identical in size and you have a recipe for the best tablet/pc hybrid on the market.
Apple has the design expertise to remove the keyboard and lower the weight to where it can possibly match the iPad. Or, make a dockable keyboard that doesn’t look clunky like it does on so many Windows 8 hybrid PCs. I think a MacPad with no keyboard would be the genius move. I’ve seen so many people carry around that tiny little Apple bluetooth keyboard with their iPads in airports and hotels that it can’t be much of a stretch for them to do this with a MacPad.
If I were to do a MacPad I would have iOS run as an application or have an iOS emulator that can run all the iOS apps that people use today. Then users can keep their iOS apps running in a window while also using OS X for actual computing.
I don’t use Macs or iPads (Although I have used them) because I don’t like to be trapped in the Apple ecosystem. I am also not fond of the UI on Macs or iPads. I did buy a Surface Pro in the hopes that Microsoft would get this right and I can tell you that I’m not at all happy with their implementation of the tablet/PC hybrid concept. Seems there are a lot of people that didn’t like Microsoft’s concept either given the company had a $900 million dollar right off due to the Surface’s, in both the RT and Pro forms, lack of popularity.
It would be just like Apple to push out a tablet/PC hybrid after Microsoft and their followers and have it take off like a rocket. This would have the potential to put the nails in the coffin of any Windows 8 RT or Windows 8 Pro system. For the love of God Microsoft please get it together.
Google announced a nifty little device called Chromecast the other day and this tiny device that is no bigger than a USB flash drive could change our relationships with our computers, tablets, phones, and televisions forever. If this works as advertised, Chromecast will allow anyone, with any device that runs the Chrome browser, send audio and video to their televisions easily and seemlessly. That doesn’t sound like much but it is actually quite a lot as it should totally break down the barrier between devices and the TV.
Sure there are set-top boxes that currently do something like this. The Apple TV is a prime example. But, the Apple TV is walled off and only plays well within the Apple universe. I can’t take my Surface Pro running Windows 8 and send a movie to an Apple TV. But there is even more to it than that. The Apple TV streams audio and video from the device to the Apple TV, which is connected to your TV’, whereas Chromecast does a hand-off of the audio and video.
From what I understand from watching the announcement, Chromecast has a subset version of the Chrome OS that runs Chromebooks (The laptop look-a-like with only a browser for its operating system). This allows Chromecast to stream audio and video from the web just like any other device with a web browser. When taking a video from your device (computer, tablet, or phone) and pushing it to Chromecast a “hand off” is performed. This means that your device will tell Chromecast where it can get the media you want it to play and then Chromecast will start playing it. Then there is some other secret sauce that will allow your device to communicate with Chromecast over your home WiFi network to control things like volume, pause, play, and other functions.
This to me is genius. There is no streaming between Chromecast and your device thereby having no effect on your device’s battery life. Not only that but because of this hand off of functions you can still do other things with your device while Chromecast is being controlled and it is playing your media.
I’m wondering if this will work with gaming too. If it does that could also have an effect on the new XBox, Playstation, and Wii. Chromecast could be used for 2 screen gaming in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet. Google showed some impressive games on the new Nexus 7 tablet and I could easily see how some of this could be pushed to Chromecast and a big screen. I don’t recall them making mention of anything with Chromecast and gaming but I thought it was an interesting idea.
The price, $35.00, and the convenience of device to TV media consumption should be a no-brainer IF it works as advertised. And if it does this should plunge a dagger into the heart of Roku, Apple TV, and any other set-top box. I should have mine in hand by the time this is posted. Maybe I’ll post a review after I’ve had time to play with it.
I hope it is what they say it is.
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I’ve been using the Surface Pro for about a month now and had a chance to take a short trip with it as well. I can tell you that the more I’ve used it the more frustrated I become with Windows 8 as an OS and Surface Pro as a device. The hardware annoyances are nearly as bad as the ones on the software side. How far I’ve fallen from my preconceived notion post.
Here are some positives before I delve into my bitching and moaning. Boot time is fantastic. From power down to the Start screen is less than 10 seconds. Far far better than my Windows 7 machines that take maybe a couple of minutes. Hopefully this won’t change as the machine ages and I install and uninstall software (which is always the culprit to slowing down a Windows machine).
The hardware is solid. And not just in materials either. The processor and RAM are more than powerful enough to run all my Windows software and run them without a hitch. The screen is extremely responsive to touch with no lag that I can detect whatsoever. Surface Pro is a nice laptop replacement.
Now for the bitching and moaning.
The dual nature of Windows 8 is stupid and poorly executed. In my several part review I said that there is no need for the traditional desktop and I stand by that opinion. If the tile interface was just the new desktop the transition to Windows 8 would be much simpler. I think the solution would have been to build in certain functions from the traditional desktop into the tile interface. Things such as the taskbar and the capability to open multiple windows might be all that was needed to move people towards this new interface. Without these two things there is too much unnecessary swiping going on. I don’t want to keep moving from one part of Windows to the other constantly. Just open my applications on top of the tile interface and give me an easy way to switch between them using a taskbar and I’ll be peachy.
The tile interface has tons of empty space. there’s a good 1.5″ at the top and 1″ on the left and bottom that are primarily empty space. Why? And, for what reason is the word “Start” doing in the upper left hand corner? How about give me something I can use up there like a clock? I had to download a stupid clock app from the Windows App Store (if that’s what they’re calling it) and place it in the upper left hand corner of my tiles so I could have a clock to glance at for a quick update on the time. How stupid is that? It would be so nice and useful to see a taskbar at the bottom of my screen.
The tile or “Metro” version of IE sucks. It’s a mobile browser that’s been dumbed down and I would rather not use it. Windows 8 makes this difficult because when you make another browser like Chrome the default you can no longer pin shortcuts to the tile interface. It wouldn’t be so bad if this stupid dumbed down version of IE wasn’t so bad. There are no tabs. Instead if you swipe down from the top you’ll pull down a bar with thumbnails of any “tabs” you might have open or give you an option to open a tab. They’re not really tabs if there are no tabs. It’s more like having several iterations of IE open and you have to swipe and tap to go between each one instead of a simple tap on a tab. The address bar has been moved to the bottom and is only visible after you swipe up. You also have to tap on the address bar in order to bring up any favorites or recent web sites you’ve visited. Again, these are extra swipes and taps for nothing. There is more than enough space on the screen to have some tabs and shortcuts.
Using another browser with Windows 8 stinks too. It’s slightly better when using a mouse and keyboard. But using the Surface, as it was intended, as a touch-centric device the experience is horrible. As I said before, I’m a Chrome user and I have 9 to 10 tabs open at any one time and this is just not convenient on the Surface Pro. Chrome does not respond to touch very well on the desktop. At best it’s intermittent. You don’t know when you can tap on something and when you can’t. You can’t even scroll using the screen. You have to use the dinky track pad on the keyboard. Switching to Windows 8 mode in Chrome only helps a little. It opens up scrolling using the screen and you tap on links and such for the most part (I say for the most part because it’s still inconsistent for me) but you lose using it on the desktop and you can’t use Google Talk. Google Talk in Gmail only works in desktop mode. Why?
The AC adapter continues to be frustrating. It never fits on the first try. I have to fiddle with it for several seconds before I position it just right so it clicks in. Far too much trouble just so you can plug in your device. The AC adapter cords are too short. I mentioned this before but it has become more of a problem because it limits where I can place the Surface on my desk. I shouldn’t need an extension cord for something like this. For travel, the AC adapter is not well suited. Two cords instead of one creates extra unnecessary bulk. The side that plugs into the Surface Pro comes with a built in rubber clip that is totally useless. Why didn’t it come with a velcro strip like most other laptop AC adapters?
I’ve soured on the Touchcover. It just doesn’t register some letters when typing unless you hit the key in a particular way. I thought I would have no problem because I tend to really type hard. So I thought a keyboard of that nature would be perfect for me but I was wrong. There is also a goofy bug where if I touch the Touchcover just right it triggers the mute button. Even though the mute button is located in the upper left hand corner of the keyboard and my hands are nowhere near it some how an odd swipe of the keyboard triggers the mute. There are no markings for the function keys (F1, F2, F3… and so on). The markings are there on the Typecover but why they were omitted from the Touchcover I’ll never understand. It’s not like they couldn’t have printed the characters on the keys.
I’ve soured on the concept of a keyboard cover in general. While the Typecover is easier and more convenient to use most of the time the Touchcover or the Typecover are just in the way. For the last week I’ve been experimenting with using the Surface Pro sans cover. This works out much better because I have no stupid keyboard cover to lay on my desk when I don’t need it. I use a nifty little program called Mouse Without Borders which was a side project by someone at Microsoft. This little program runs on both my desktop and my Surface Pro and it allows me to use one keyboard and mouse for both. No more extra keyboards sitting on my desk taking up space.
Here’s the bottom line with the Surface Pro and Windows 8. It sucks. The tile interface is useless to me because none of the things I use a tablet for (Google Apps) work. The things that do work, like Twitter, are dumbed down versions. I can do more in the browser. The apps I do use where a shortcut sits on the tile interface open to the desktop. The traditional Windows desktop works like an app made for the tile interface. You don’t really move between the desktop and the tile interface. Instead you open the desktop and have to close the desktop, just like a tile app, when not in use (I suppose you could leave it running).
I was sold on the idea of Surface Pro until I got it in my hands. The execution is so poor that I may grow to hate the device. This wasn’t a melding of the tablet and laptop. Somehow Microsoft managed to put two separate devices in one piece of hardware. This isn’t a vision for the future of computing but a bit of a nightmare where everything is made more difficult for no apparent reason.
2 out of 3 ain’t bad. I said this in my initial post about the Surface, ” It has the power of a desktop machine, the portability of a laptop, and the convenience of a tablet.” Well Surface does not have the convenience of a tablet. It falls short in this area in a big way. Surface is simply too big.
I complained a lot about Windows 8 but my complaints are really about a new operating system. I like where Microsoft is going with this OS but I fear it may be too little too late. My initial thoughts about not wanting to use the tile interface was way off. If Microsoft can improve multi-window use straight from the Start screen then they can dispatch with the traditional Windows desktop. It’s simply not needed anymore. There is a lot of room for improvement with consistency in behavior between the tile interface and the desktop. Solving this alone would help but I still feel the desktop can go.
All gripes aside, I really do like this device and if it came out 2 years ago I would have said that this is the only portable computer I need. But in the last two years I pared down what I carry to only my cell phone (a Samsung GS3) and have freed my self from carrying around a computer. I did this because of the bulk. I don’t want to be carrying around a bag or a computer in a case where ever I go. Smartphones are at the point where they perform more than enough tasks for those 30 minutes to an hour when a person is going from one place to another. The only time I carry a traditional computer is when I travel and then I bring a laptop. Sadly the Surface will fill that role. I say sadly because I really was hoping to be able to use this device day in and day out as my primary machine. It’s just not there yet.
Here’s what I want, and it would need to come out this year in order for it to be relevant. I want a Microsoft Surface, even with all its flaws, in a 7″ or 8″ form factor (7″ is my preference if you’re listening Microsoft). This would be a computer I could see myself carrying around everyday. It would also need space, inside the device, to store the pen. It can look the same as the Surface Pro and use the same build materials but it really needs to be small. The laptop and the large form tablet are dead. That’s yesterday. Devices like the iPad Mini and the Nexus 7 are the now and the future.
Here’s my personal plea to Microsoft; Figure out a way to put real Windows in a 7″ form factor, make available a docking station for when a full monitor, keyboard, and mouse are needed, and make it happen before the end of the year. I may actually wait in line for something like that.