Saturday, February 16, 2013

Is Microsoft Pulling a Fast One on Us with New Office Licensing?

As you may or may not know kids, I sometimes describe myself as a tech boss by day and nerd hero by night.  So rightfully so tech and the internet play a pretty heavy role in my day and I spend a lot of time, as one has put it before, “absorbing the internet.”  And recently the news I’ve been absorbing has progressively meant big changes in the way software works (and I’m counting games in there too).  And change always means that people are going to be resistant to it.  And that’s not always off the mark, as a lot of stuff seems pretty anti-user these days.  We’ve seen our next-gen console manufacturers turn on us with always on DRM and talk ofhard-locking game media to consoles and user accounts in recent history.  And now, after talking about blocking games on the next Xbox console, Microsoft is riling users up in their Office line of products.

When you buy most kinds of software, according to most end user license agreements, it’s yours.  My current copy of Microsoft’s Office 2007 Pro belongs to me.  I installed on my laptop back in 2007.  Since then I’ve upgraded my laptop twice, and was well within my rights to install Office again on those replacements, which I did.  Hell, I’m using it to write this article right now.  And that’s how retail software for consumers works most of the time.  But Microsoft’s decided to abandon their existing retail model in their 2013 line.

Instead of the example I gave you above, they’re implementing a 1-license, 1-PC rule.  What that means is that if you buy a license for Microsoft Office 2013 and install it on your computer, that’s it.  Upgrade to a newer machine?  Aww I’m sorry kids, Office can’t come with you to play.  You’d have to buy another license for your next computer.  So let’s look at my personal situation with Office on my laptops above.  If this rule was in play in Office 2007, I would have have had to buy a second license for that laptop replacement, then a third license for the one I’m using now.  And Office Pro (seriously, damn my need for MS Access) will set one back about $350-400 per license.

That’s over a thousand bones, brah.

ComputerWorld confirmed this with Microsoft, so there’s not exactly room for speculation on whether or not this’ll “actually happen.”  But the reallyscary part is how Microsoft responded when they were asked about replacing a broken laptop.  They didn’t note it as an exception.  They didn’t say “Naw man, we wouldn’t do that to you!”  They said the two words that lead me to believe the worst case scenario is probably true – “No comment.”  Well damn.  And with all the tech and software they have across their portfolios, they definitely have the means to enforce that.

Let’s look at the direction Microsoft is going – everything is moving from boxed software to cloud and online services, and everything is ruled through the Microsoft ID.  Microsoft ID’s link up with Xbox Live accounts, and the next Xbox will stream games with an always-on connection.  Not only the Xbox, but Windows 8 integrates a Windows Live ID to link itself into every part of the OS and your digial world.  And they love convincing you to use SkyDrive.  It would be extremely easy for them to map an activated license key to a Microsoft ID, with an “install count” or “activation count” attached to it, leaving users with little recourse.

In that same line of thought, it looks like Microsoft is pushing their online and cloud based agenda, and through this move are trying to get people to start using their subscription-based Office 365.  Instead of buying licenses for every machine you need to install your retail copy on, the user signs up subscription style, paying $99 per year to use the cloud based office service.  Given my laptop scenario above over 7 years, the subscription plan would have only costed me $700 instead of over $1,000.  So it sounds pretty good compared to the 1 copy / 1 PC version right?  Well, not really.  Assuming that you do in fact buy a copy of Office whenever you upgrade your PC or whenever a new version of Office comes out, sure, the subscription might save you money.  But going back to my laptop scenario, here’s what my cash outlay options are/were:

  • If 1 license / 1 PC was in effect back then : $1200 ($399 x 3 laptops)
  • If subscription was in effect back then: $700 ($99 per year for 7 years)
  • What the actual cost was: $400 (1 copy of Office 2007 used over and over)
Why?  Because I don’t buy every single new version of Office that comes out.  One one machine I’m still happily using Office 2003, as I have been for a decade.  I own zero copies of Office 2010.  And the same is going to be true with a lot of people and a lot of small to midsize businesses.  Office 2003 will be used up until the last day in April 2014 when it’s no longer supported, because that means $400 per user can last for 10 years.  And $40 per year is far cheaper than any current option Microsoft offers.  So there do exist a number of scenarios where this will hurt the user.  Ideally I would buy a copy of Office 2013 Pro, and run it for another decade.

Because I’m a user, not a revenue stream with a face.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Games Workshop Brings the Trademark Warhammer Against Sci-Fi Book

OK kids, we’re going to start out today with a little game.  I’m going to say some words, then ask you some questions, and then we’ll move on.  Ready? Great.

Q1: What do you call a person who searches unknown territories? (I came up with “explorer” for this one myself)

Q2: Now… what if that man or woman did said work and/or activity, in oh, I don’t know, the deep sea?  What would you call that person?  Would you call them a deep sea explorer?  Of course you would – it’s  an explorerthat does their thing in the deep waters of the damn sea.

So now let’s talk about another occupation/location combination phrase – Space Marine.  That phrase has been used a bunch of times over the years in science fiction and gaming and conjures different ideas to different people.  For me personally the term makes me think about Blizzard’s Starcraft series, and the nameless hero from id Software’s Doomback in the day when gore only came in 16 bits.  But for a lot of other people, Space Marine is synonymous with Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop and video game from Games Workshop.  And that’s cool, because it’s not like it’s a specific and proprietary thing that someone could  own  right?

… right?

Well it definitely was a question that came up when science fiction authorM. C. A. Hogarth surprisingly found her book Spots the Space Marinepulled off of Amazon’s digital shelves thanks to a DMCA takedown request from Games Workshop.  As it turns out that Games Workshop kind ofdoes own the name to a certain degree with trademarks they have registered in the USA and Europe.  And while in Europe that trademark covers pretty much everything involving the Space Marine name, in the United States it only covers the tabletop game and pieces.  So why then, were they able to take action against a book in the United States?

The DMCA, that lovely set of rules that a couple weeks ago said you couldn’t unlock your phone anymore, allows copyright owners to get content taken down via a takedown request.  It’s the reason that there’s certain videos on YouTube that you can’t watch anymore – because copyright holders have requested that the content be removed.  But the problem for Games Workshop is that the DMCA works with copyrights – you know, what the “C” stands for – and not trademarks.  So when Amazon took the book off of their site, it was premature on a claim that didn’t have any teeth to begin with.
But what if the DMCA did support trademarks?  As mentioned before, their US trademark doesn’t cover books.  So how did Games Workshop justify trying to shut Hogarth down?  By claiming that after starting to sell digital books online, that they have a “common law” trademark on the phrase Space Marine in the United States.

Really guys?

These trademark trolls came after Hogarth hard and as a small author she didn’t have the money to fend them off with a legal team.   But I still don’t really understand how any court would entertain the claim – “Space Marine” in both concept and name, has been used a number of times historically.  If you check out TV Tropes to see the list.  That in conjunction with their gimped trademark and I’m not even seeing a case here.  At any rate, she’s found support from a number of people on the internet through social media backing her cause, in the sci-fi and gaming community, as well as fans organizing boycotts of Games Workshop pieces.  And it’s helping shine a giant spotlight on the bullying tactics of copyright (and now trademark) trolls.
But there seems to have been some progress.  While Games Workshop has been following their policy of not commenting, as of my checking this morning, you can again find Spots the Space Marine on Amazon.  I applaud them on their decision to put it back up for sale and not allowing this sort of corporate bullying to stand.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Always-On Rumors True? Xbox May Follow Suit in Blocking Used Games

Now that Sony’s PlayStation team is a couple weeks out from what I think will be the PlayStation 4 reveal, It looks like it’s Microsoft’s turn to continue churning the rumor mill.  A while ago you’ll remember that we talked about rumors of the PlayStation 4 having a mechanism to block used games or games not registered to a user from running on the console.  And I’m pretty sure consensus across most people was that it would be a horrible idea.  And in my opinion, that consensus was right.

Now comes the fun part – We knew Sony wasn’t alone in having this technology, but now there’s evidence that it may actually be put into practice.  Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox 720, or Durango, or whatever the hell you want to call it, will be featuring similar technology for the purposes of blocking used games.  While a lot of what I’m seeing across the internet are really just referencing this as rumor, Edge Magazine claims to have a source at Microsoft saying that this will be done by requiring an internet connection to even function.  They went on to mention that games would still be available to be purchased on physical disk media, but those disks could include activation keys, providing nothing to anyone outside of the initial user that bought the media.

The report also says that the system will finally support Blu-ray discs instead after finally giving up on their horse named HD-DVD, but I’m not really sure you’re even reading that part.  The always-on rumor kind of trumps it.

I’ve always hated always-on connections as a method of DRM.  Always. I hated it when EA did it on the PS3.  I hated it when Blizzard did it with Diablo III.  And yes, I have even historically hated it with Steam.  Years ago when I refused to use Steam and people said I was nuts because “dude the games are cheaper and it’s soooo much easier,” my concerns were on a higher plane of nerd.  I’ve always considered business models that require always-on connections to have heavily detrimental aspects to the user experience – most prominently being the one that says No, you can’t play any time you want to.  And Steam did exactly that.  They did it with software instead of hardware so it might be slightly different to the minds of many but the principle remains the same.  And in my opinion, while sure it was cheaper and easier, it was setting a dangerous precedent in gaming.  Not only because it did in fact take something away from the user experience, but that gamers were ok with it, and allowed it to keep happening.  There shouldn’t be any rule on any console or system that says you can’t play the games you’ve paid for when the internet is down.  It adds another point of potential failure to your gaming console in your internet connection.

I might add, before you all go off on me, that I don’t include MMO’s in this little rant.  I mean the “O” stands for online.

In addition to all of this philosophical wrong,  if these reports from Edge are true then it’s a fantastic blow to the used game market, which as we discussed before with the PS4 would in fact help developers since they’d be the only shop in town. What this does do though, if true, is give Sony a tremendous opportunity to say “No, we’re not going to follow that model – come to team Sony, my peoples!”   They have the option to become the console of the people by abandoning this practice before their PS4 reveal.

Truth be told, I really hope Edge is wrong, or that someone lied to them in an extremely convincing manner.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted.  I am not going to call this 100% fact until I hear something official from the Xbox team.

If they’re not hiding from us.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Safer Internet Day - Some Tips for Your Digital Life

The internet contains more and more of our lives these days.  We have online accounts for our banks and paying bills, online shopping, and a number of other types of online activity that put more of us out there.  With social media like Facebook and Twitter this is increased a hundredfold.  And the more of our lives are public, the more we stand to lose if some unsavory digital brigand gets their hands on our digital info.

Hacks happen.  Plain and simple.  Whether it's a brute force attack or poor security or a social engineering scheme, there are people whose livelihood relies on messing with the livelihoods of others.  So we all have to be on the lookout.  So to promote safe internet use and to prevent internet abuse, InSafe established Safer Internet Day, a day to promote awareness for internet safety an internet health for all.  Today, February 5th is the 10th Safer Internet Day, and this year's theme is "Connect with Respect."  The initiative has global support including giants like Microsoft, who has some great resources on their SID site including downloads for how to protect children on line and teach them digital safety, as well as some guidelines on how to keep control of your digital life.

So in that spirit, I thought it would be a good idea to give you all some tips for internet safety.  Maybe you don't think you need them, but it's always good to have reminders.  I work in IT for a living, and I've been hacked before.  Even Mat Honan, part of the crew at Wired Magazine, has been hacked in a very public and spectacular fashion.  It goes to show one is ever 100% immune, but with some proactive measures, we can all make our digital world safer.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but take a look, and put some of these practices into play.

1.  Good password management: Use complex passwords for your online accounts, especially sites like banking and payment sites.  Make sure your password includes a mix of capital and lowercase letters, with numbers and special characters as well.  Remember - a good password is hard to guess but easy to remember.  Also,  update your passwords regularly and be sure to never send your password to anyone over email.

2.  Control your social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and any other social media site you use have increasingly become targets for hackers and other online miscreants on an information hunt.  These services give you a way to control who sees what information through privacy settings.  You can set up exactly how public you want your information to be.  For example, your Facebook privacy settings should probably be kept at "friends only" to be on the safe side.  And on content you choose to keep public, think twice before you post something that could be potentially embarrasing or damaging to your digital reputation.

3.  Suspicious email: Email is a popular way for hackers to hit users with phishing scams, trying to trick them into clicking links to malicious content or handing over information they wouldn't normally hand over, like credit card numbers.  Ask yourself if there's any reason you'd be getting a particular email.  If not, it might be safer to not open.  Another red flag is if there are attachments to the email that you don't recognize.  And another trick is to hover your mouse over links in the body of the email.  When you do, a tiny box will appear telling you where that link really goes.  Because a link that says Blizzard or Amazon may lead somewhere else that you  don't want to be.  Phishing emails become a lot more common during certain times of the year - namely holidays, tax season.  Some of them also claim to be from the government asking for your information.  Remember that a government entity like the IRS will always send you official communications in writing, not over random email.

4.  Stay updated!: Make sure you have anti-virus software running on your computer like Norton or Trend, and turn on the setting to auto update.  This will keep you up-to-date with the latest anti-virus definitions to protect your systems.  A good anti-malware software like Malwarebytes is also a good idea.  Enabling automatic updates on Windows will also ensure that you have the latest updates from Microsoft like security patches.

5.  BE PROACTIVE.  There's a lot of stuff you'll come across on the internet, and a lot of it isn't going to be safe.  Flag and report sites and content that are clearly abusive and/or illegal to Google or the entity being abused.  You can also report internet crime to the FBI through the ISC (the Internet Crime Complaint Center).  And if you're one of those tech folks that's in the know, educate people!  Run a presentation on internet safety at your workplace, tell your friends how to stay safe, and practice these tips yourself.
If you're unsure of anything, ask your local computer nerd!  While they may have a gruff and nerdy exterior, they'll always be happy to help someone be proactively safe on the internet.  Or leave a comment or ask me a question if you have them.  The internet can be a scary place, so make the right decisions and surf safe.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sony's February 20th Announcement - I'm Calling PS4.

OK.  Sometimes when a company tries to do a big reveal, they go one of a couple different directions.  First is the Apple route - blacking out room windows in R&D, attaching test devices to desks at Apple HQ, and even masking field testing units with external casing to make sure no one knows what's up.  Sure it may not seem like that's how they roll now, but that's how they do things.  Get their audience so amped that whatever they introduce is an instant hit they've all been waiting for.

The second is the straightforward method.  That's more or less saying "hey kids, product X is going to be out on the 37th of Zuhtember (naturally "X' and "Zuhtember" being code for a number and who gives a damn).  But in this case potential customers know exactly what's coming and what's going to be involved.  I guess the cleanest example here after the Apple thing would be Samsung and their Galaxy phones if you want an example.

So both of those methods make sense, and we've seen both dozens of times before.  What confuses me sometimes is when some companies try to blend the two of these in some sort of "openly secretive" teaser thrown out onto the interwebs.  Which is the route than Sony took today with their latest teaser on their official US website.  Go ahead, watch it.  It has all the elements of a big reveal - flashy effects, zoomed shots of different aspects of what gets collected for a final image, and of course mystic and cryptic heavy beats in the background to add an ambiance of mystery and allure.  Sweet.  Even a date and a time for a very special event so fans have something to look forward to.  So what could it possible be?  My interest is now piqued beyond recognition - WHAT COULD IT BE?  Four very familiar shapes - a triangle, a circle, an X, and is that... is that a square?

Look at the video kids.  It's gonna be the PlayStation 4.  I mean I can't for sure say it, but watch it again.  Search your feelings.  I don't think you really need the force with you to sense this one.

The date? February 20th, at 6:00pm.  The teaser is an ad for the Playstation Meeting, which is a venue where Sony's unveiled consoles and hardware before (that's where they unveiled the Vita before), so the PS4's a feasible prediction.  And Sony wanting to beat Microsoft to the punch on consoles does make sense too.  There's also a chance that maybe they could be releasing the fruits of their venture with Gaikai, but MY PEOPLES - I'm still calling PS4.