Friday, April 30, 2010

19. adobe and apple and microsoft, oh my!

a lot of you that read anything about mobile tech probably know that one of the sticking points with the iphone and the newly released ipad is that these apple mobile products don't support flash - and on that topic there has been a lot of back and forth between apple and adobe.  concerning changes in legal language for developers and requirements to use native code, the two tech giants bickered briefly like an old married couple, ultimately culminating in a metaphorical divorce, and adobe's final cartman-esque decision of "screw you guys, i'm going home."  after flash CS5 ships, adobe will remove the flash for apple developer kit, and focus on android and other mobile platforms.  there are still a lot of people that don't understand the moves on either side.

to clarify this, steve jobs recently published an open letter of sorts entitled thoughts on flash, concerned primarily, of course, with reasoning as to why apple is so anti flash on their mobile units.  he defines six broad reasons for this: openness, the "full web" argument, reliablity/security/performance, battery life, touch, and quality.  now while i did say some harsh things about him during his lawsuit against htc, and briefly attacked the man for parking his car in handicapped spaces, in this case i can't honestly say i fully disagree with him.  his biggest argument is that html5, h.264 video and other "open" standards are the way of mobile web, and there are non-flash delivery alternatives to flash that provide most of the same content.  personally i've opted into youtube's html5 beta, which seems to be working for me just fine.  i believe vimeo is using html5 video as well, and there seems to be an increasing interest in adopting that platform.

on the security and performance front he mentions that flash is the number one reason macs crash, and cites athat even symantec called flash out as having one of the worst security records in 2009.  in my group at work we can definitely appreciate that - over the last couple of years we've had to apply a number of flash patches around here to address potential security holes and exploits - and we think, one one occasion, stolen information through a flash security hole resulted in one of my friends getting his warcraft account hacked and our guild bank cleaned out.  the security holes aren't limited to just flash though - similar gaps (at least did) exist in adobe air, and i've even read of malware delivery through an acrobat document.  overall in 2009, there were over 10 security issues (most of which could lead to pc hijack) that required patches and zero-day fixes to address.  some may call it improper security control, while others may argue that it's just growing pains now that adobe is large enough to affect a lot of the internet.

adobe's response to the letter was as expected, calling the letter a "smokescreen" and maintaining that apple's decision has nothing to with technology.

none of any of this really surprised me until microsoft entered the fray.  guess which video platform internet explorer 9 is going to support?  that would be h.264.  dean hachamovitch, the general manager for IE, weighed in with his opinion that html5 and the h.264 codec was the future of the web, and did express that microsoft wasn't happy about adobe security.  ouch.  he did say, though, that flash is good for today's web because it's hard for typical people to get to flash-free content.

how must adobe be feeling right now?  the two kingpins in consumer computing both have issues with their product, within days of each other, and announce that one of their major products probably doesn't have a place in the mobile web of tomorrow.  the new flash is, however, adopting h.264, so we'll see how things go from here.  either way, adobe stock has been steady on the decline over the last few days on the heels of this news - still strong, but steadily slipping.  it just looks like kicking them while they're down (good thing adobe still has the rest of their creative suite).  but to be fair, in my personal experience, i have never seen flash work properly on any mobile device.  and in the case of packaging flash for apple mobile, even former adobe engineers have spoken out on how flawed the process was.

it's a shame to see what adobe had once vs what it has now.  when they acquired macromedia and the flash platform in 2005 they had an amazing wealth of technology at their fingertips.  eventually flash dominated in share for any website or app or animation.   they just weren't able to carry it over into the mobile world.  while the entire industry has been going by the code of smaller, faster, lighter" - from desktop to laptop to pocketpc to smartphones -  adobe kept chugging away on iterations of their flash platform for desktops and workstations. they really just failed to keep up with the trends of industry and their competitors when it came to mobile tech.  because if adobe had really focused on a mobile flash platform that worked well when their competitors were ramping up their mobile development, they would have done it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

18. common damn sense - oh mcafee, you poor bastards

mcafee. holy damn. can i ask, was pcp involved? was that it? was your damn dev team high on the dust?

this outburst was real - actually said out loud while reading the morning news in my office concerning mcafee security and their recent blunder.  there's dropping the ball, then there's what you're about to read - tantamount to dropping a wrecking ball through the ground from a hundred feet up.

most of the time when you get updated virus files, it goes on in the background while your going about your business and you're none the wiser.  95% of the time, this kind of update goes on without any issues.  the other 5% maybe something doesn't quite go properly and the worst that happens is that the update installs itself again.  the remaining (i'll round down to) 0% of the time, an update triggers a false positive, quarantines a system file, renders a machine fully inoperable, forcing a user to operate with pen, paper, and an indelible ink milled from tears and pure rage.

that's what happened wednesday when mcafee - yes, the mcafee, pushed updates for their corporate versions of their security suite around 9am.  the end effect - thousands, maybe millions of computers worldwide on corporate networks were down, cursed to reboot over and over and over, doomed to see any attempt at running applications ending in failure.  this update, which only affected windows xp machines running service pack 3, was so crippling that even huge companies like intel were basically on down time.

i'm going to repeat that - intel, the world's leading PC microprocessor manufacturer, was affected by this.  so if you were, don't feel to bad.

others that were affected were dish networks, the university of new hampshire, and the university of illinois at urbana-champaign to name a few.  commerce halted, labs closed, classes cancelled.  so what the hell happened?

well for a lot of you, even those of you who aren't the greatest of PC pundits, the filename "svchost.exe" may ring a bell.  it's a file that's needed for windows operation, and is sometimes targeted and exploited for certain viruses to hide.  mcafee's update registered a false positive for all affected machines and shoved this crucial file into the quarantine, again, effectively downing a machine.

now comes damage control, with an apology on their "security insights" blog.  but in the immortal words of george costanza, "stuff your sorrys in a sack."  it's way too late for apologies to mean anything now, especially given what their reasoning is.  they admittedly say they were working with sub-par quality assurance procedures, and flat out failed to test the changes in a windows xp sp3 environment.  why this bothers me on a very fundamental level - windows xp service pack 3 is the most common PC operating environment currently being run in the united states, if not the world.  it's like testing a car out on everything but paved road.  personally, being in charge of a relatively small-scale software project and IT department, every change i make is thoroughly tested by my team in a test environment before even thinking about putting it into production.  i'm this careful even knowing that my actions only affect one company and would result in a minor impact - mcafee's changes affect thousands of servers and workstations, and thousands of companies and small businesses.  at this level, especially given what mcafee's software focus is, a hotfix release and a "mea culpa" isn't going to help their case.  they're adding some QA procedures and expanding their "safe" file whitelists.  whoo.

what still surprises me is that they have positive feedback on the issued apology, praising them for quick turnaround times and "hey keep your chin up, microsoft and apple have had issues in the past too."  with all due respect to these posters, politely shut your damn traps and return to watching 90210 before you hurt yourself.  you clearly have the technical IQ of a cashew nut.  the man hours required to repair this in large enterprise organizations and the amount of money in lost time is going to be staggering.  i'm waiting to see the numbers that i'm sure someone is currently tabulating.

now given this near-rant on my part, i'm not heartless.  mcafee - i can definitely appreciate your apology to the public.  i get it, it's a tough industry.  coders that choose to use their powers for evil really do force antivirus / anitmalware software manufacturers to publish multiple updates per day.  newly bought antivirus software is obsolete out of the box.  i feel bad for mcafee, i really do, but when inadequate testing is the issue, they really did bring it upon themselves.

i'm not a mcafee customer, and i'm still upset over this, and feel for my fellow geeks that are on the job around the clock on this one.  i can only imagine how their paying customers feel about a ball dropping of this sort of epic proportions.  and all it took to prevent it was some decent QA processes and some common damn sense.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

17. iphone 4.0 lost and found, controversy abound

i really didn't mean to rhyme that.

lately there have been stories floating around the interwebs about how the guys over at gizmodo got their hands on a prototype for the iphone 4.0, which should sound very strange to anyone who knows anything about apple - since their new products have more pre-release security than the pope on a state visit.

the story revolves around one gray powell (sorry gray, for adding one more hit when people google you), an apple engineer who works on apple's baseband software, who was out on the night of march 18th to celebrate his birthday in redwood city. he was carrying one of the iphone 4.0 prototypes, disguised in quite the clever iphone 3gs shell to deter onlookers from looking on, for the purposes of some sort of field testing. after having a few, as those who celebrate birthdays generally do, he even updated his facebook status on the prototype - "i underestimated how good german beer is." in his defense, he's correct, german beer is quite good.

before i continue, a short aside - above i alluded that apple's prototype secrets and in house security were at near-vatican levels. steve job's OCD over intellectual property is well known industry wide, but allow me to elaborate - according to a business week report last month regarding the ipad, devices had to be physically locked down to a fixed object and stored in rooms with blacked out windows, for starters. business partners have no choice but to provide photographic evidence of this to do business with apple. and they are just as strict, if not moreso, on programs designed to prevent, detect, and deal with leaks. as opposed to some companies that use controlled leaks to gradually generate buzz about a product, apple relies on complete secrecy, using the shroud of mystery to generate huge buzz on release day. that said, a leak could destroy an entire marketing campaign.

now back to the story of young mr. powell. all of the stonewalls and secrecy surrounding apple aren't able to do much when prototypes are left just sitting around. yes, as the popular nursery rhyme goes, all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't stop someone from throwing back some hefeweizen and leaving an iphone prototype on a barstool. no? well for the purposes of this post, that's how it went. so after leaving the beergarden, sans iphone, a "random really drunk guy" finds it and hands it to someone else, who attempts to contact apple to return the device (to no avail) and finally - and this is where it gets a bit hazy - sells it to gizmodo's parent company for anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the source, resulting in their exclusive reveal of the iphone 4.0 to the world.

now here's a twist to the whole story - before i read this story on gizmodo, engadget had released possible iphone 4.0 photos, claiming that a prototype was found on the floor in a bar in san jose. then it was reported as a hoax, and then a chinese knock-off, and back and forth until a fuzzy picture of an old ipad leak emerged and was used as proof to show it was indeed the new iphone. what??

gizmodo was actually able to get a hold of gray on the phone, reporting that he sounded "tired" and "broken," but at least he still had his job at apple. the tired and broken part sounds about right. knowing how obsessive steve jobs is about prototypes, leaks, and intellectual property, i'm guessing he must have put him through the wringer personally. gizmodo maintains that they had no idea it was an apple prototype, but apple confirmed by eventually sending them a notice, in writing, claiming that the unit is apple property and they would like it to be returned. i guess that's proof that theirs was real, and not some cheap knock-off.

so who knows what the hell is going on. either:

(a) apple gave multiple protoypes out and two coincidentally happened to be lost in an almost identical way
(b) gizmodo and engadget are in cahoots
(c) one's trying to keep up with the other
(d) apple has switched up their entire marketing strategy and has cooked up this whole damn thing.

is it too late now that the world has seen it? is apple going to let the design proceed as scheduled or start over to maintain the mystery? you be the judge.

consolidated for your convenience:
complete gizmodo coverage here
engadget photos here and their proof here

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

16: product placement has finally gotten out of control

(the following was prompted by recent ridiculous screencaps from konami's metal gear solid: peace walker from kotaku and kotaku japan)

ADVERTISING. a fundamentally basic concept that over the years has become so complex, twisted, and ubiquitous that sometimes i just can't stand it anymore. and i know, you can't either. modern advertising started with basic print ads in magazines and newspapers, then began to evolve. blank walls eventually began to become the canvas on which marketers and advertisers shilled their wares and peddled their goods. but then private property owners didn't like that, and they ran out of walls. no problem! erect massive billboards - more wall for the shilling.

then came the 1980's, and the dominance of product placement.  product placement is an ad without the ad - sticking an item with your brand on it in a tv show or a movie to produce some consumer awareness. some do it perfectly - remember E.T.? remember the tremendous focus on reese's pieces during that movie? worked great - didn't take away from the film, didn't explicitly shove product in your face, and worked it into the storyline pretty seamlessly. there are PLENTY more examples - as kids we drooled over super mario brothers 3 on the NES in the wizard, saw my big fat greek wedding's windex obsession, and (don't lie) all wanted a delorean after back to the future. and on the topic of cars, let's not forget will smith's audi in i, robot. next came tv, and many were positive that we'd hit the saturation point.

NOPE. the silver and small screens weren't enough. the emergence of video game markets over the last couple of decades has provided infinite digital space for advertisers to try to ram branded product down users' throats. virtual billboards in racing games like need for speed underground 2 were emblazoned with burger king and old spice, the sims franchise struck a deal with alienware computers, and though second life doesn't exactly count, ad space in that virtual world sells at a premium. sports games of course deal a lot with sports equipment - for example, you can be damn sure my golfer in tiger woods pga tour is rocking an odyssey putter, as there is one in actuality in my bag.

and i get it. video games really are the "now" as far as entertainment. the average gamer spends at minimum 5 hours playing per week, and that kind of exposure is great for advertisers. subconsciously players may associate the fun from playing the game with the associated advertisement, increasing their chances of buying those products and services. all of this stuff is on some level a necessary evil, as video games are in fact costing more and more to develop and produce with the huge strides in gaming technology.  anyway, on to what the topic was SUPPOSED to be on...

metal gear: peace walker. what. the. hell?  konami has packed this game so full of product placements it may as well be called pepsi gear doritos: walkman. hideo kojima and konami held a press conference last week in japan - not a release press conference, not a gameplay presentation, but a press conference to announce their product tie-ins and alliances. this included japanese manga and food items, as well as products the western world would be more familiar with - namely pepsi, mountain dew, doritos, sony walkman, and axe body spray. so why? why, after a slew of successful games in the MGS franchise, does hideo kojima decide to have all of these tie-ins? according to his twitter, "it's because I want to surprise players. if there's no surprise or freshness, then I'll stop the tie-ins. It's different from hollywood-style merchandising." he also mentioned wanting to capture a younger generation of gamers - which is kind of confusing since every game in he franchise, including this one, is rated freaking M.

hideo kojima, i will tell you right now - this will bring zero freshness or anything new to the franchise. do you remember the good old days when keeping a game fresh meant creative writing and gameplay?

a bigger set of pictures and details from the press conference can be found at kotaku.  so kick back and enjoy MGS: peace walker for the PSP - a handheld edifice constructed in the name of merchandising.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

15. EA plus tiger woods still equals ratings

yes, i'm going to be talking about tiger woods.

after the, shall we say, transgressions, on the part of tiger woods, we've seen the inevitable corporate fallout happen on pretty much every media outlet.  accenture dropped ties with tiger in december, followed shortly by at&t.  pepsico's gatorade brand followed suit, ending their sponsorship in february.  even one of tiger's most steadfast corporate allies, gillette, claimed they were going to scale back on using the tiger woods image in their advertising campaigns - now relying heavily on their primary front man, roger federer.

on the video game front, electronic arts has stuck by him.  since 1998 and the playstation era, every year has seen a new version of the tiger woods pga tour franchise, generally featuring a triumphant tiger in one of his various victory poses from a number of tour wins.  now going into tiger woods pga tour '11, the cover looks a liiiiiitle bit different, doesn't it?  take a look.  instead of el tigre alone and triumphant, his cover is now shared with northern ireland's rory mcilroy, the 20 year old upstart who is shaping up to be a bigtime player after ranking well in recent pga tournaments.  according to EA, mcilroy appeals to a younger generation of golf fans, and with the huge successes of european players on the tour, a european golfer should share the cover spotlight.  that all makes complete sense on paper, but the timing makes it kind of tough to believe with all of the current and highly publicized proceedings.  many people were surprised that EA even held onto the tiger woods name at all to sell their golf game. 

so after all of the other drops, why did EA hang on? when asked even back in january they renewed their support in tiger.  and recently on CNBC,  EA sports' head honcho peter moore gave some more details:  "we are a very different company, in regards to our relationship with tiger, than other sponsors that have cut bait.  he's in the game. he's not an arm's length endorser."  translation - he's a character in the game, not using the company's products on tv, like shaving with a gillette fusion 3 million or sipping tiger-branded gatorade.  keeping tiger woods out of a golf game would be like releasing the next version of nba live without lebron james, or madden 11 without adrian peterson.  or street fighter without ryu.  i think you get the idea.

tiger woods is still one of the most explosive sports figures in all of history, regardless of his "swing off the green.  EA sports forged a relationship with him based on SPORTS, and in all of their statements have been very specific in indicating that they stand by tiger woods the golfer.  others tend to agree, since sales of tiger woods '10 were only marginally different than tiger woods '09.  tiger '11 should still deliver.  this upcoming release of tiger 11 and tiger pga tour online somewhat coincides with his real-life triumphant return to the links at the masters golf tournament.  ratings are going to be through the roof, and the only thing that may rival his physical presence on the tour will still be his digital presence through EA.