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Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

Microsoft WMF Vulnerability – Patch Conundrum

Posted by hs on January 5, 2006

There has been a slew of patches for the WMF Vulnerability. In addition to the unofficial patch by Ilfak Guilfanov, a as-yet-unfinished Microsoft patch was released online inadvertently.

The vulnerability is very critical in the sense that the user does not need to do anything, except view the image. This can be viewed either in a email or via a browser. Microsoft refused to depart from its monthly patch-release schedule to release an express patch. This gives a cosy 10-day window for the vulnerability to wreck its way worldwide.

Meanwhile Ilfak rose to the occasion and posted an unofficial patch on this website. His site was down earlier due to humongous load (‘half the planet is downloading WMFFIX_HEXBLOG14.exe’), but is back now. The patch has also been mirrored by a number of sites including, GRC.com, Sunbelt Software, Antisource. F-Secure and Internet Storm Center (SANS) recommended that customers use Ilfak’s patches while Microsoft puts its patch together.
Resources

Update: Microsoft has released a patch – it is being automatically applied to machines (Win XP SP2 atleast) with Automatic Updates enabled.

Keywords: WMF, Vulnerability, Microsoft, Ilfak Guilfanov, Patch, WMFFIX_HEXBLOG, WMFFIX_HEXBLOG14, GRC.com, Window, Patch Schedule, F-Secure, Internet Storm Center, SANS, FAQ, Securiteam, Advisory

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Posted in Bug/Vulnerability, Computing, Internet | 1 Comment »

Largest Prime Number Found

Posted by hs on December 27, 2005

The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) project has found the largest prime number for the second time this year. On Dec. 15, the team discovered a Mersenne Prime that is a 9,152,052-digit number. Here’s the press release (may not be online).
Mersenne Primes are a subclass of Prime numbers, and are defined as a prime numbers which are 1 less than a power of 2. 7 is a Mersenne Prime since it is 2^3 -1.

The prime discovered is the 43rd Mersenne Prime discovered so far, but fails short of claiming the $100,000 award from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to be awarded for discovering a 10-million digit prime number (part of EFF Cooperative Computing Awards).

Keywords: Prime Number, Mersenne Prime, Mersenne, Largest Prime, EFF, GIMPS, Prize, 10 million digit prime, Cooperative Computing Award 

Posted in Computing, General | 1 Comment »

Printer Economy Update

Posted by hs on December 13, 2005

Continuing from a previous post: Patent’ed Profits vs. Freedom of Choice

Some numbers on the printer market economics (sourced from the article Ever Wonder Why Ink Costs So Much? in BusinessWeek Nov 14, 2005 issue)

  • Cost of 3rd party refilling (e.g. Cartridge World) vs. vendor-sold (e.g. HP) cartridges: 40-60%
  • Ink inside a new cartridge from HP, Lexmark or Canon costs more per ounce than Chanel No. 5 or Dom Perignon
  • Global market for printer ink: $59 billion
  • Refiller share: 5% (2004); Knock-off brands: 18% (2004)
  • Estimated market share (non-vendor) in 2009: 31% (source: Lyra Research)

No wonder people like Cartridge world are expanding so fast. From 1 store in Australia to more than 1,000 stores across 30 countries (including 275+ in North America) raking in $300m annually in less than 10 years is surely a good business by any standards.

Keywords: Printer, Ink, Cost, BusinessWeek, Cartridges, HP, Cartridge World, Lexmark, Canon, Printer Ink Market, Refiller, Refilled Cartridges

Posted in Computing, Economics, Gadgets, Tech/Biz | Leave a Comment »

Web 2.0 Bingo

Posted by hs on December 2, 2005

(continued from previous post: Web 2.0: Changing the OS Paradigm)

A cool Web 2.0 Bingo, via GFY.

Also a real Bingo, only for Firefox and Safari users.

Keywords: Web 2.0, Bingo, GFY

Posted in Computing, Tech/Biz | Leave a Comment »

Patent’ed Profits vs. Freedom of Choice

Posted by hs on December 2, 2005

(updated from a previous post)
CNN Money is carrying a story on a case that is currently before the US Supreme Court (Cheaper refills vs. patent profits).

Although this case (Illinois Tool Works v. Independent Ink.) might seem like the proverbial David vs. Goliath battle, it has lots more facets. The prime contention is: does buying a patented product force the customers to buy services (including consumables, spare parts, etc.) from the original manufacturers (or any other parties mandated by the manufacturer).

Such a coercive (or tied-in sale) is essentially market distorting. The patent-holding company can grow into a monopoly (or an oligopoly at best) and force the customers to pay higher-than-normal prices, thus maximising its own profits at customers’ expense. On the other hand, the patent-holding companies argue that it cuts down the incentive for them to invest in R&D and produce products in the first place.

The current case is a classic example in the technology industry. Printer companies sell their printers significantly below their cost price, and recoup the money by selling the ink/toner/cartridges at a premium. In Inkjet printers, this is exemplified in a very stark manner – customers often find that the cost of buying original replacement cartridges (1 black & 1 color) is often nearly the same as the original cost of the printer. It is just their insecurity which prevents them from junking a working printer and buying new one with full cartridges – otherwise, given the depreciation, and wear & tear plus warranty costs, it might actually be more economical to buy a new printer rather than replace cartidges in the old printer. And, it is also a technology refresh – better print quality, speeds, etc.

Similar is the case with companies that sell hardware for cheap, and then charge a premium for the services.

Arguments put forth by such companies are flawed – true that they put significant investments in R&D efforts and they need to recoup the same, with a decent returns, but earning those returns by distorting customer choice is not the right way. If some other company can come up with a product that interoperates with the orignal products and sell them at a lower price, then the second company is also well-within its rights to recoup the investments that it made in coming up with a compatible technology! And since their investments are not on the same scale as the original R&D, they can afford to charge lower prices – simple economics!

A better way to recover investments is to come up with products that customers can’t simply get away from – either a perfect product which customers simply love, or a highly advanced product that no other company can bear to match. Product Differentiation & Benefits Delivery – that is how customer business is won, not through litigation.

Update (20051201): Two other similar cases have come up recently – both pertaining to patent-holders suing other companies purportedly using their patents. One if MercExchange vs. eBay and the other relates to NTP (successfully) suing Blackberry-maker RIM. In RIM (Research In Motion) vs. NTP case, the most interesting aspect is that the patents NTP is claiming are all just paper-patents. NTP does not have any device based on the patents it is suing RIM for. Given the potential outcome of the case (Judge banning all Blackberry services in US for everyone except Governmental agencies), the dice is heavily loaded in favor of NTP. The only aspect that needs to be finalized is the amount which RIM would have to shell out to NTP. Viva la Patent system!

Update (20051202): The US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) has rejected NTP’s claim on one patent, and said that a Norwegian company might have filed for the patent before NTP. RIM can breathe a sigh of relief!
Keywords: Patent, Free markets, Printers, Ink, Court case, Supreme court, RIM, Blackberry, NTP, MercExchange, eBay

Posted in Computing, Economics, Gadgets, Tech/Biz | 1 Comment »

Web 2.0: Changing the OS Paradigm

Posted by hs on December 1, 2005

The desktop Operating System (OS) scene has largely been cornered by Microsoft products in recent times. Apple has always maintained a dedicated niche market (mainly designers) and Linux (and other *nix) systems have been seen a preserve of geeks and nerds.

Operating systems have come a long way from the days of DOS (and loaders/linkers of the yore). In the DOS era, OS provided little functionality by itself. Compare that with the Operating Systems of today, where tons of functionality is integrated within the OS itself. Both approaches have their pros and cons.
Another revolution that has been taking place almost simultaneously is the emergence of Web browser as an application platform. True, there were thin clients and some browser-based applications earlier also, but most of them acted as web interfaces to applications running on servers rather than using the computational capabilities of the host.

Various technologies have contributed to the emergence of web apps, including greater availability of bandwidth. However, nothing has had more profound impact than something called AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript + XML). The term is relatively new, having being coined by Jesse James Garrett in his article Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications (18 February, 2005).

The first popular applications using AJAX were launched by Google – Google Suggest & Google Maps. Although there have been some claims (and counter-claims) as to Microsoft having invented AJAX technologies, the term was first coined by Adaptive Path.

AJAX represents a fundamental shift in the way Internet works and forms the basis for what is called Web 2.0. Already there are lots of web apps springing up that might one day usurp the dominant place that desktop products hold in everyday computing today. An Internet-based word processor might have been dismissed as a flight of fancy a year ago, but today there already are working products doing precisely what was considered not possible. Writely is a web word processor, and so is gOFFICE. gOFFICE currently provides Word processing features and is expected to launch Spreadsheets & Presentations soon. One of the coolest features of gOFFICE is the ability to save the documents online and get them delivered in multiple formats, including PDF. Writely too allows users to save the documents offline in Word, HTML or OpenDocument formats. And since both (and other similar packages) are in a heavy development stage, one can expect many more features to be added in near future.
What does rise of web-based apps means for traditional applications, for example Microsoft Office in this case? Surprisingly enough, Microsoft has been pretty quick to latch onto the web apps bandwagon. It has already announced plans to offer various offerings under its Live platform – including Office Live and Windows Live Mail beta (that just went online).

Although it might be rather premature to say it at this stage, I do not see any major threat to desktop-based apps in the near future. There are situations where web apps fit better, and adoption rate would be pretty high in those areas. But there is a totally seperate market which has not been served till now (cheap, mobile access) which would be eager to adopt the web apps, hence minimizing any cannibalization between the two markets.

The question then is: how does Web 2.0 impact the OS paradigm as we know it? OS would continue to develop, but they would share their role as the platform for running applications to web browsers. At some point in near future, the web browser would turn into a formidable competition for OS itself. A class of applications that require extensive user interface or have formidable data requirements would continue to reside on local machines, but other applications, like email would move onto the web apps model. Even mainstream mail service providers like Yahoo! Mail are now testing highly interactive web app versions of their mail services, and this trend is only going to grow stronger.

Even tasks like audio & video which were not thought of as web-oriented apps are increasingly being delivered over the Internet, helped by increased bandwidths and better compression formats. Experiments like Google Video hold a lot of promise.

Operating Systems might again start moving towards minimalness – provide a comprehensive interface between the hardware and applications, and little else. The apps of the future would do better to harness the underlying hardware than rely on OS for that purpose. Thus, an ideal OS might be the one that is transparent to the user, and one which provides just about enough power to applications without doing little else. A extreme (and probably ridiculous enough) paradigm: an OS that makes running apps as effortless as human breathing – vital, but largely going unnoticed.
And, needless to say, Web Browser would be the most significant component of the future operating systems. No wonder there’s a battle raging out there between Internet Explorer and its (mainly open-source) rivals (Firefox, Safari).

PS: What would such an OS be called? BreathOS!

Keywords: OS, Paradigm, Browser, Application platform, Transparent OS, Evolution, AJAX, Web 2.0, Google Suggest, Google Maps, Adaptive Path

Posted in Computing, Internet | 3 Comments »

DI-524 – Airport Express face-off

Posted by hs on November 28, 2005

Actors: D-Link DI-524, Apple Airport Express

Catalyst: WPA2, DI-524 firmware update 3.20 (for rev. C1)

After my Airport Express decided to drop some packets for the n-th time thus rendering the iTunes stream over to my speakers hung again, I decided to look for any updates that might be available for both Airport Express (‘AExp’) and DI-524. AExp was already running the most current version (6.2), and DI-524 was definitely behind times! 3.02 vs. 3.20!! So I go ahead, duly flash, re-enter all settings and expect things to work.

Other than the confusion between WPA, WPA2 and WPA2-Auto (see below for explanation), everything else seemed fine till, AExp tried to connect. No matter what I did, I could not get AExp to connect to DI-524 with v3.20 firmware. A quick Google revealed shared grief. And despite the firmware having been out for 2 months now, there is no word out from D-Link regards any corrective update. Till they come out with a better upgrade, I am back to v3.02 and having access to my AExp over my network.

WPA, WPA2, WPA2-Auto

WPA2 is a stronger version of WPA (‘Second generation of WPA security’), and uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). There are some other differences also (see a good overview here). Suffices to say WPA2 is stronger, more robust version of WPA with many additional options. WPA2-Auto looks like non-standard: basically what it does is checks for WPA2 support in client trying to connect to the AP (Access Point) and degrades the encryption automatically in case WPA2 support is not detected.

Keywords: DI-524, Apple Airport Express, WPA, WPA2, WPA2-Auto, AES, Passphrase, Firmware update, Incompatability

Posted in Computing, Gadgets | Leave a Comment »