Archive for February, 2008

Apple throttling non-Apple software, unfortunate biproduct

Some of you may have noticed that the Firefox 3 nightly builds have felt a lot snappier since a few weeks ago. There’s an interesting story in that, one that I finally have time to write up. We’ve had a number of bugs on the Mac where people were complaining of bad performance compared to Firefox 2, usually involving a test where a page was scrolled by a small step 100 or so times, and the time from start to finish was recorded. In many of these tests, Fx3 was coming in at 50% to 500%+ slower. This was odd, because in theory the graphics layer (which is what scrolling is mostly exercising) in Firefox 3 should be faster, given that it’s talking almost directly to Quartz.

Slashdot seems to have picked up on this, and in typical style, has completely misunderstood the post. To be clear, I do not think that Apple is in any way trying to purposely “cripple” non-Apple software. I also do not think that undocumented APIs give Safari any kind of “significant performance advantage” (as Firefox 3 should show!). However, as I said, the undocumented functionality could be useful for Firefox and other apps to implement things in an simpler (and potentially more efficient) manner. I don’t think this is malicious, it’s just an unfortunate cutting of corners that is way too easy for a company that’s not fully open to do.(link)

AT&T busts competitor claims of 6 – 8 Mbps

AT&T attempted to take the shine off of the claimed speeds of cable companies during a presentation at the Merrill Lynch Communications Services Forum 2008. During a presentation at the forum, AT&T Telecom Operations Group president John Stankey talked some smack about the broadband offerings of his company’s cable competitors.

Stankey revealed that AT&T purchased cable Internet service for over 150 homes in the service area of an unnamed competitor. The advertised broadband speeds were in the neighborhood of 6Mbps to 8Mbps, and AT&T installed gear in each home to test and take samplings of the actual throughput and speeds.

The result was quite different from what the cable company advertised. While AT&T saw peak speeds in the 3-4Mbps range, average throughput was closer to 400kbps. “Peak might be something that occurs at 3am, when the network is lightly loaded,” said Stankey. “Even at peak, the performance on these types of transactions was well below the 6 or 8Mbps access speeds.” (link)

Proposed bill to criminalize violent video game sales to minors

In 2005, California passed a law that prohibited the sale of violent or sexually explicit video games to minors. Since then, as in every other state where this sort of law has been attempted, the legislation was found to be unconstitutional. It was hit with an injunction preventing its enforcement before being completely blocked back in 2007. Gov. Schwarzenegger appealed that decision, and this week Media Coalition filed an amicus brief to oppose the law and hopefully end this back and forth in the courts.

Amicus curiae means “friend of the court,” and the term describes briefs filed by groups with pertinent information or insights into cases that they are directly involved in. Media Coalition, the group behind the new amicus filing (PDF), not only includes groups related to video games but also the Association for American Booksellers, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America, among others.

The reason for the brief is a simple one: once the California government has set that precedent that it can legally censor or control violent content, the business of every member of Media Coalition would be at risk. (link)

Vista prices cut, but many stick with XP anyways

For those in the U.S., Microsoft is cutting prices only on the higher-end versions of Vista, and only for the upgrade version used to move from an earlier copy of Vista. The suggested price for Vista Ultimate drops to $219 from $299, while Home Premium falls to $129, from $159.

Other developed markets will also see price cuts, while in emerging markets, Microsoft is eliminating the distinction between full and upgrade versions of Home Basic and Home Premium as it attempts to convince more users there to use genuine software.

Analysts were surprised by Microsoft’s move.

“I can’t remember a big price cut like this,” said analyst Chris Swenson, who tracks retail software sales for NPD Group. “It’s very unheard of.”

Microsoft finalized Windows Vista in late 2006, but held back its retail launch of the product until January 2007. It has sold more than 100 million copies, largely on the back of a strong overall PC market, but retail sales have significantly trailed those of XP in its early days and Vista has received a number of critical reviews. (link)

Confidential disc left inside laptop given to computer store

A British computer store has found what it says is a confidential government computer disc hidden inside a laptop brought in for repair.Jonathan Parry of Leapfrog Computers in Bolton says a customer purchased the computer on eBay. When a technician opened it up, he found a compact disc marked “Home Office” and “Private and Confidential” wedged underneath the keyboard.

It was not immediately clear whether the disc was genuine. Britain’s Home Office is the government body responsible for maintaining law and order and fighting terrorism.

Parry says when staff realized the disc was encrypted, they called the police. (link)

Security vendor discovers database of stolen FTP usernames and passwords

A fresh discovery by security vendor Finjan Inc. provides yet another example of how easy it is becoming for almost anyone to find the tools needed to break into, infect or steal data from corporate Web sites.

The San Jose-based vendor announced today that it has uncovered an illegal database containing more than 8,700 stolen File Transfer Protocol server credentials including usernames, passwords and server addresses. Anyone can purchase those credentials and use them to launch malicious attacks against the compromised systems.

The stolen credentials belong to companies from around the world and include more than 2,500 North American companies, some of whose Web sites are among the world’s top 100 domains, according to Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Finjan’s chief technology officer.

The FTP credentials would allow malicious hackers to break into and upload malware of their choice to compromised servers literally with a click or two, he said. “You could pick any server you wanted in the list, pay for it” and launch an attack with very little effort, Ben-Itzhak said. (ComputerWorld)


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