Would Bill Gates pull a Steve Jobs?

If you’re an Apple fanboy you already think Microsoft just rips off Apple’s ideas. However, David Milman at ComputerWorld has asked if it’s time for Bill Gates to pull a Steve Jobs and make a return to Microsoft?

Now granted, the departure of these two tech giants from their creations were under very different circumstances. Jobs was all but thrown out on the streets of Cupertino left to wander the scorched Earth through NeXT and Pixar. Meanwhile Gates stepped down from power at Microsoft leaving Steve Ballmer as CEO and later Ray Ozzie as CSA. Gates now spends his time unleashing mosquitoes on the unsuspecting public and convincing other super billionaires like Warren Buffett to give away their money.

And like when Jobs was removed from Apple, Microsoft has been on a decline since the departure of Gates. It’s stock has declined, it’s products have lost some of their edge (although a lot of that has changed with Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7) and their focus.

Some would argue that Ballmer should have lost his job after the failure of Windows Vista. I’m inclined to fall into that camp. But is Gates the best person for that job, again? Does Microsoft need fresh blood or does it just need its old blood back? We want to hear your thoughts.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on November 1, 2010.

Commitment Issues

I’ve never been one to have commitment issues. But my decision to move from the iPhone 4 to the Nexus One just couldn’t stick. Last month I wrote about what I saw as the flaws of the iOS platform and specifically the issues I had with the iPhone 4. I also wrote a glowing review of the Nexus One and I stand by (most) of that analysis. But yesterday I sold my Nexus One and will soon be buying an iPhone 4.

When I announced this “news” on Twitter and Facebook last night I think I stunned just about everyone of my friends and followers. I got a lot of questions like “What did Android do wrong?” but did get a few statements like “I knew you’d be back” … when I left last month, I didn’t intend to come back. But there were a few lingering issues that I just couldn’t get past.

Subsidies

The Nexus One I purchased cost me $529 direct from Google. So I take that phone and attach it to my AT&T account and then pay AT&T the same amount of money for my voice, data and TXT messages as I would if I were on a 2-year agreement. AT&T spends nothing upfront and makes a larger profit from me than it does for someone who spends $199 for a iPhone 4. The obvious benefit for me is that I can take my phone and go to another carrier, or cancel my account anytime I want. But here’s the kicker… my only real choice is AT&T.

Beyond the logistical issues of having every friend and family member I know being on AT&T (free mobile to mobile) and the fact that they have one of the better networks in the Kansas City area… Google for some reason designed two different Nexus Ones. One radio optimized for T-Mobile and one for AT&T. So if I decided I was fed up and wanted to move to T-Mobile, I’d basically cripple my phone by relegating it to EDGE network data speeds. And since obviously Verizon and Sprint are on different technologies, they’re not even something to be considered. Google would have been wise to use a radio that would work on both types of GSM networks, if that were possible. Realistically, I’m locked into AT&T, regardless of if I have a 2-year contract or not.

So the real question for me was, in order to make the value of owning the Nexus One “worth it” … was my experience with it more than 2.5x better than the iPhone 4?

Basically. No.

Quirks

Here’s the thing about reading reviews done by people who purchased the product with their own money… we tend to want to make ourselves feel good about the purchase, so things that might annoy an totally objective person are sometimes overlooked (or not mentioned.)

There were a few things about the Nexus One that annoyed me from the start, but were not enough to make me dislike it completely. If it was going head to head on price with the iPhone 4, I wouldn’t give them much of a second thought and would probably still consider elements on the device and the OS to be superior. But here are a few:

  1. Nothing beats iTunes for syncing music. I tried a variety of solutions for Android and was really quite impressed with a program called Double Twist. But the Windows interface was worse than using iTunes on Windows, and the process of syncing tended to take a really long time.
  2. The row of home, back and search buttons on my Nexus One were very picky. You have to touch them just above where the actual indicator button is for them to work properly. It’s something you get used to, but when you hand the phone to someone else, they tend to have a hard time getting it to work.
  3. Battery life was less than stellar. The more I used the device, the more I saw where I was coming very close to not being able to go through the day without a recharge. Since I’m not much of a night owl (I’m usually at home or even in bed by 10PM on a Saturday) it didn’t hit me too bad. I did initially purchase a second battery for the device, but I never used it.
  4. I found the ear hole for the speaker to be in an old location, at least compared to the iPhone. I had to hold the edge of the phone up to my ear to hear other people clearly. It was something I had to get used to, but found to be somewhat bothersome.
  5. The on-screen keyboard was just not as accurate as the iPhone version. In fact I found the touch screen to be somewhat laggy compared to the iPhone. By this I mean, the iPhone screen seems what I would describe as “spring loaded” — snappy and ready to flip from around with ease. On the Nexus One it was common to try and flip two or even three times before the screen reacted.

Applications

Despite what I initially said, the Android Marketplace has a long way to go before it catches up with the App Store. While there were a sizable collection of applications that had been ported, many of them did not function anywhere as smoothly as the iPhone version. The Facebook for Android application was painful to use at times, forcing me to manually refresh pages to see updates or get notifications. This was common for most of the applications that I used, things that seemed to just happen naturally on the iPhone either required multiple menus or buttons to access, or the features were missing.

There is also something to be said for the investment in Apps that I’d made over the last two years as an owner of the iPhone 3G. I have hundreds of Apps in my iTunes library, and I’d paid for a sizable chunk of them. Many of them I could just not find a replacement for in Android. Really, the App Store is one of the smartest things Apple did to insure people stay with the platform.

Photography

Nowhere was this lack of Apps more obvious than in the world of photography, which is my main hobby. Apps like Photoshop Mobile, Best Camera and Camera+ were ones that I’d come to use often on my iPhone, and despite my fruitless searches, I could not find anything similar in the Android Marketplace. They were also Apps that I already owned, and couldn’t use.

There is also something to be said for the iPhone 4 camera, versus … well, anything in a phone… or even most point and shoots.

While not really photography, something else I found ridiculous about Android compared to the iPhone was how impossible it was to easily take a screenshot on the Nexus One without doing a USB tether to the Android SDK, or rooting the phone to install custom applications. It’s a simple process of clicking two buttons on the iPhone. Not that I often need to take screenshots, but I do it enough where it was bothersome.

Death Grip

I griped (a lot) about the iPhone 4 and the death grip. Why? Because it really teed me off. However, and I really hate to admit this, the Nexus One had a very similar issue.

While I could never get the signal to drop to the point where I would disconnect calls (which I can do on the iPhone 4) there was a noticeable decrease in signal strength when holding the phone, and the tighter the hold, the fewer the bars. It was not uncommon to watch my signal go from four bars (full) to one bar. Granted, the problem wasn’t simply touching a specific area of the phone like Apple seems to have engineered their device for… but the issue is there.

Another related issue, was I could never get my phone to remember to automatically reconnect to my home wireless. It had no issues at work, but for some reason when I came home I’d always have to enter the wireless settings and reconnect. It managed to save my SSID and WPA2 keys, so it only took a few seconds… but for some reason it would never stick. Same goes for leaving the phone on standby and then waking it up. It would connect to 3G but never Wifi without a little extra encouragement.

Discontinued

It never makes you feel good when you buy something and then two weeks later learn they’re not going to sell the product anymore. On the other hand, it made it a lot easier to find a buyer on eBay.

It’s Not All Bad

Even with my complaints about Android and the Nexus One. It’s not all bad. I still stand by my analysis of the intricacies of the operating systems from my previous review. Things like the notification system and the integration with Google services are really top notch and the notification system in iOS is something Apple really needs to address.

Synopsis

Will I miss my Nexus One? Yes.

Would I buy it again? Yes (subsidized) Would I encourage others to buy it? Yes.

Would I encourage others to look at Android? Yes

But in the end, I just couldn’t make it stick. Weighing all the factors, the iPhone, with it’s assorted Apps and features was the better choice for me. Forgive me Father Jobs, for I have strayed from the light. Please accept me back to the comfort of the Reality Distortion Field once again. I promise I’ll (probably) buy an iPad!


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on July 29, 2010.

Life after iOS

As I explained in a previous entry on Tuesday, I’ve made the decision to leave the world of Apple mobile devices for the land of Google Android. To briefly bring you up to speed:

Ever since the iPhone supported Exchange, I’ve been a huge supporter. I’ve spent two good years on the iOS with my iPhone 3G. … When the iPhone 4 was announced, I followed the WWDC keynote with great anticipation. I ooh’d and aah’d at all the advances in design and software. … (after getting it) Taking it home that night, I started to notice something was a little off with my phone. … (antenna issues) I dropped a few calls that weekend, including one to my father who seem’d to have lost my mother, but I could make due. … The view from most of the people within the Apple world was that it was firmware related, and would be quickly fixed. Then Steve Jobs opened his mouth. … I found myself deeply disappointed in the device and the operating system. Enough so that I’ve made the switch to Android.

There, now that we’re all up-to-date, I’m happy to say that my Nexus One is activated and I’ve had the last couple days to play with it. Having had experience with many different mobile device styles and platforms, including Windows Mobile, Palm OS (the original, not the WebOS) and iPhone, I can honestly say that the Nexus One and Android OS is the best mobile experience I’ve ever had.

I say play, but really, I use my phone as a tool. It’s a tool for me to communicate with friends, family and co-workers. Not just through phone calls, but SMS, email, Facebook, Twitter and IM. I need that tool to work reliably all the time, because if its not, I’m going to miss out on the important events of my life. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with a smartphone. It’s pretty standard stuff.

I put a lot of thought into what device to make a switch to, so why did I choose the Nexus One? It’s been out since January, and can’t be considered a new device. In two weeks Motorola will release the Droid X and you can already get the HTC EVO 4G from Sprint, today.

  • I needed a solid phone, now. Not on July 15, so that made the Droid X a non-starter.
  • 2x I needed a solid phone now. Since the HTC Incredible is on backorder until the return of Jesus, it’s not an option, and thus Verizon was out since those were the only two phones I was interested in.
  • Sprint’s network in Kansas City can be considered third world, in some areas. Having experienced this while living less than 2 miles from the Sprint world headquarters in Overland Park, while using a Treo 700wx, didn’t even allow me to consider the HTC EVO 4G.
  • Everyone I know in this area is on AT&T, because unlike what you may see in San Fransisco or New York, they have the superior network in Kansas City. As a result, my entire family and a large chunk of my local friends are all on AT&T. Seeing as these are the people I communicate with most often, the free mobile-to-mobile made them an attractive network to be on. It’s also the same network I was with on my business account for the iPhone. This made transferring my number to a personal account a lot easier.
  • I was attracted to purchasing an unlocked phone and keeping myself out of a contract. Since the Nexus One came direct from Google, and not tied to the provider, I can use it on any GSM network. I realize it would limit me to only two in the US, and if I used T-Mobile on it I’d only get EDGE speeds for data, but the ability is attractive and also the ability to travel outside the US and swap SIMs without any fuss was one I added into consideration.

Ordering & Delivery

The process of ordering the phone from Google was almost flawless.

I placed an order for the out-of-contract AT&T version on June 29, for $529, at around 9AM. The web store was very straight forward and easy to use. My only complaint is that the confirmation screen can be confusing for those who don’t know which bands the AT&T phone uses vs the T-Mobile, and it doesn’t clearly say on the receipt and invoice. However, this was my only complaint. Google gave me the option to engrave a custom message on the back of the phone, for free, but said it would delay the device by up to 72 hours in shipping. Since I needed the phone by next Friday, I opted not to. If I’d known how fast things would ship, I would have reconsidered. Overnight shipping via FedEx was free. I opted to purchase an extra battery for $25.

By lunchtime Tuesday, my phone had left the Googleplex and was on it’s way to my office. By 8AM on Wednesday, it was in our campus mailroom ready to use. Less than 24 hours after I’d placed the order. Already, I’m impressed at their speed.

Build Quality

Out of the box, the build quality of the Nexus One is obvious. In your hand, it feels lighter than an iPhone 4, about the same as the 3G/3GS. Size wise, it’s slightly longer and thicker than the iPhone 4, but looks smaller than the 3G/3GS. The face is glass, wrapped in an aluminum band which crosses over the back and bottom of the face. The slightly darker plastic feels very nice to the touch, and is much easier to keep a grip on compared to the all glass back of the iPhone 4, or even the slick plastic back of the 3G/3GS. The curves are attractive, and feel very natural in your hand, compared to the squared off and ridged feel of the iPhone 4.

Other than the glass front, there are no places on the Nexus One where I feel like normal use will damage or scratch the device. The back of my iPhone 3G over the course of 2 years had normal wear and tear, but the iPhone 4 I used for a week, after three days of use, had a large scratch in the glass on the back, right where my wedding ring sits. This scratch was easily visible and easy to FEEL. My tungsten band had cut into the glass after only a short term of casual use. Two days later, another scratch appeared.

I have no indication that the Nexus One will have any of those issues.

Hardware

Apple doesn’t like to talk about the internals of their devices, unless they actually have a technical advantage over their competition, except to say that their “magical” or “amazing” — that said, others constantly tear down and analyze their equipment, so we end up knowing a good deal about them. In contrast, HTC (who makes the Nexus One) and Google (who designed it) are pretty open about the hardware specifications. Reason being, the Nexus One was designed to push mobile devices (and Android) forward, something it has been pretty successful at doing. When the Nexus One came out, the only thing to compare it to in the Apple world was the iPhone 3GS, which in a hardware tear down, the Nexus One was superior in nearly every way. Now that the iPhone 4 is out, we have something else to compare it to… and in a side by side comparison they stack up pretty well against each other.

Processor

The iPhone 4 features a “custom” ARM chip called the A4, the same chip that is in the iPad. This chip is able to run at 1GHz but the current understanding is that it’s purposefully under-clocked by Apple to reduce battery consumption and the amount of heat that it gives off in such a small body.

In comparison, the Nexus One features a 1GHz Snapdragon processor. The chip is not underclocked and can actually be over-clocked using non-stock kernels. While Apple sets their chips down a notch to keep them from heating up, I always had issues with iPhone’s being warm in my hands after long periods of use. With the Nexus One, I’ve never had that problem.

Memory

Both the Nexus One and iPhone 4 feature 512MB of RAM. The previous 3GS only had 256MB, as does the iPad.

In terms of internal storage, the iPhone has the advantage of a built in 16GB/32GB of storage. On the flip side, it is non-expandable. The Nexus One only has 512MB of internal storage for the operating system and applications, however, with Android 2.2 applications can now be installed on the external micro-SD card, which is capable of going to 32GB. Bundled with the phone, is a 4GB card.

This is a double edged sword of sorts. Trying to find 16GB microSD cards is no problem, and a great SanDisk card can be found on Newegg or Amazon for as little as $30 plus shipping. However, the jump to the 32GB cards more than quadruples the price in some cases. To be honest, I wish Google would have included a larger card as 4GB is tiny when you start adding pictures, music and video to the device. For the $529 I paid, they could have easily ponied up for a little more memory. Add-in installed applications, and it fills up quick.

The best path I’ve seen is what Motorola is planning for the upcoming Droid X. 8GB of internal storage PLUS a microSD slot able to go to 32GB WITH a 16GB included at purchase. This equals 24GB of storage for the same price (with contract) as a iPhone 4 16GB. If you’re willing to go a little farther you could surpass the max storage of the iPhone platform at 40GB. (8GB internal + 32GB expanded) — it’s my hope that this is the model that every Android phone takes in the future.

Screen

Nothing beats the “Retina Display” of the iPhone 4. Nothing. It’s superior DPI, resolution and color clarity is unparalleled. It looks good in all lighting conditions even at low brightness. It’s the one thing about the iPhone that anyone can look at and compare the previous versions and instantly see massive improvements.

However, the Nexus One screen is still very nice. A lot has been said about the PenTile display and the color clarity, and while it’s not as nice as the iPhone 4, I find it to be superior to the 3G/3GS screen, and a lot better than most other devices. It’s also slightly larger than the iPhone 4 (3.7″ vs 3.5″) which isn’t a horrible thing. I will say that it takes a little adjustment, and for someone who has smaller than average fingers, any bigger and I’d be afraid it’d be too hard to hold. This is one thing where I worry about devices like the Droid X and EVO (4.2″+), that for most users it’ll be too large to comfortably hold and type on. Some people like the large screen, I feel that the Nexus One is about the biggest I could comfortably use.

I’ve found that in low/no light, the AMOLED screen on the Nexus One is superior for long term reading compared to the iPhone 4. I like to sit in bed after my wife has gone to sleep, catch Jon Stewart or Letterman on TV and use my phone to read the news, Twitter, etc, and with the iPhone 4 my eyes would get tired and irritated quickly. With the Nexus One screen, it was much easier to use for long periods of time.

Camera

The camera on the iPhone is hard to beat. However, the Nexus One is pretty comparable. Both feature a 5MP sensor with an LED flash. However, the iPhone sensor has a lot more power behind it and as a result the color quality and speed at which the camera fires is superior. Although, the Nexus One seems to have a lot deeper depth of field and a slightly wider angle of view, resulting in images where more of it is in focus.

It’s a trade off, as an proamature photographer, the thought of having a great camera with me at all times is very appealing, and with my iPhone 3G it was my daily shooter for almost anything. There were times I’d find myself taking pictures of things where my Canon point and shoot or even my Nikon D200 DSLR would have been the far superior choice. However, as Chase Jarvis says (and wrote a book and iPhone app about) “the best camera is the one you have with you.”

When you look at color quality vs image sharpness/focus, it’s a tie. However, the speed at which the iPhone 4 is able to perform takes the cake, and when you add in 720p video out of the box (the Nexus One will do it with third party software) it’s impossible to do anything but hand it to Apple on this.

My ONE caveat in saying that, is that iOS 4 currently has a bug that adds a “green ghost” to the center of images taken under florescent lighting. However, I’m confident Apple will correct this and as pointed out to me, HTC has had issues like this in the past, and even the big dogs of Nikon and Canon who do nothing but make cameras have similar issues with their high end DSLRs that frequently require firmware updates to correct.

Android vs iOS

I could spend the next three days comparing these two operating systems, their features, multitasking abilities (or inabilities) and their quirks. But, there are already many reviews out there doing exactly that. However, I will point out a few key points that I find beneficial on each platform.

Integration

The Nexus One is probably the only fair comparison to the iPhone when it comes to the integration of hardware and software. It’s the only device that Google has had total control (along with their partner HTC) in building the device and designing the Android OS around it. Obviously this is Apple’s primary business model in all of their hardware products, and little explanation of the benefits they see from it are needed.

That said, Android is very well integrated with the Nexus One, and the entire process of using the device is nearly perfect end-to-end in terms of tie in with other Google powered services such as the Maps, Gmail, Contacts, Calendar, Google Talk, Google Voice and of course Search. The fact that every text box or search field can be powered by voice commands that are highly accurate (as long as you speak clearly) is a huge plus. In contrast, Apple has to rely on a lot of third party technologies that are integrated with the iPhone like… Google Maps and Search. Even Apple’s implementation of MobileMe as an “all in one” provider of email, calendar and contacts is somewhat flawed. My wife uses MobileMe for her primary email after purchasing a 3GS and we’re just waiting for it to expire and switch her to Gmail or Live Mail after their ActiveSync service comes online. She complains constantly about MobileMe not pushing email and about calendar events disappearing. Problems I didn’t even have with iOS tied to Microsoft Exchange 2003/2007, which always seemed to work flawlessly.

The Nexus One is pure Google, end to end. For some people who worry about what Mountain View and their datacenters are up to, that’s scary, but the device is very well integrated into all their services. It’s a total Google package, or as they put it “the Google experience.”

Notifications

The funny thing about the iPhone notifications system, is that it didn’t used to bother me, until I used the Android system and saw how far superior it is. No more hunting for desktop icons with indicators, spread across multiple screens, with Android every system or program notification is displayed in a single drop down menu at the top of the status bar. They can all be cleared with the push of one button, or opened and flipped back to the app that needs your attention. No app can overtake another app you’re viewing with random status windows, they all cleanly take their place and await your attention in the top corner.

In this area, the Android OS is superior to the iOS in every way. Maybe for iOS 5, Apple can finally implement a real notification system.

Applications

One of the things I was really worried about after making the switch, was that the applications I’d grown to love on the iPhone, wouldn’t be there on the Nexus One. I was wrong.

While the Android Market features a fraction of what the iTunes App Store has, it’s only been around a fraction of the time. The built in Twitter and Facebook applications for Android are top notch, and beautifully integrate into the Contact list on the phone, as well as flow with the rest of the Android interface. While the Twitter application lacks some of the advanced features of the official iPhone Twitter App (aka Tweetie 2) it’s still a great application. The upcoming social networking platforms like Foursquare all have their official applications, as well as many others. To my great surprise, I’ve yet to be unable to find the app I was looking for in the Market. In many cases, the application developers have ported their programs to Android and in other cases, a nearly identical program exists. I don’t do a lot of gaming on my phone, so I can’t speak to the Market vs App Store in that respect, but there are plenty of other resources that can if you know where to look.

One thing the Market has that Steve Jobs would rather die before he allows is a open submission process. There are apps in the Market that require your phone to be “rooted” to function. (For you iPhone users, root = jailbreak+) — And beyond that, with the click of check box, non-market approved applications can be installed from any source.

Updates

Because the Nexus One is the Google flagship phone, it’s been updated pretty frequently since it’s launch. Other Android phones have not been so lucky and official 2.2/Froyo updates for devices like the Droid and EVO have yet to be released, and some devices such as the Hero and Moment may never get official updates. My Nexus One came with Android 2.1 installed, and since then has been updated twice. Once as a full upgrade to Android 2.2 soon after unboxing, and again last night with a security patch. While the frequency of updates for all devices leaves something to be desired (and Apple has Google beat in this department) the method in which updates come really shakes Apple’s tree.

The over the air update process for Android is something Apple should be looking into right now, if they’re not already. I have known too many iPhone owners who’ve never even plugged their phone into a computer, let alone sync’d and updated with iTunes. As a result, people on the iPhone 3G can still be running 2.0 firmware when there is 3.1.3 or 4.0 for their consumption.

The manual update process for Android is fast, and fairly simple. On the Nexus One it’s simply a matter of copying the updated firmware to the SD card, rebooting the phone while holding down a magic button combo, and selecting the firmware update. The upgrade from 2.1 to 2.2 took around 5 minutes, and the patch last night was about 2 minutes. This includes copying the file to the card and booting the device into the update mode. Most times it takes iTunes/iPhone this long to even begin the process syncing to tell you there is an upgrade for the phone. Then there is a process of writing the entire upgraded firmware to the phone (300MB) instead of just what needs updating (900KB) — in my view, Android wins. For anyone technical enough to read this website, the manual update process should be a cakewalk.

For the average non-technical user who actually does sync, and stays up to date, the iTunes method is probably superior to the manual update method… but nothing beats over the air updates.

Final

In conclusion, I have found the Nexus One to be superior for my needs as a power user. If you’re the type of person who buys an iPhone just to jailbreak it soon after, or finds themselves restricted by Apple’s methods, then Android is the obvious choice to switch to. The Nexus One, while not fully superior hardware wise to the iPhone 4, can hold it’s own in processing power, and when combined with Google’s fully integrated and yet open platform, is a win-win.

I’ve been very happy thus far with my choice to switch, even from the latest and greatest that Apple has to offer.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on July 2, 2010.

Making the switch to Android

Ever since the iPhone supported Exchange, I’ve been a huge supporter. I’ve spent two good years on the iOS with my iPhone 3G. My job bought it for me back in 2008 and I got it shortly after launch. It was a solid phone with a lot of good things to say about it. I evangelized to everyone I knew about how they should get an iPhone, how it’s the best smartphone around. I got a 3GS for my wife, I’ve told countless other family members to get one. In most ways, when it was introduced, it was the best thing around. But things have changed.

When the iPhone 4 was announced, I followed the WWDC keynote with great anticipation. I ooh’d and aah’d at all the advances in design and software. When pre-orders started, our company bought 11 to start, and we waited until last week when they finally arrived (early) from AT&T. I rushed across campus to rip open the box and activate my new toy (err) tool. There it was, the iPhone 4, before most anyone else on the planet had their hands on one. I took pictures, I tweeted about how amazing it looked, how the screen was fantastic (it is) and how fast it was compared to my 3G.

Taking it home that night, I started to notice something was a little off with my phone. In Kansas City, AT&T really is the top carrier, and with my 3G, reception was never an issue. I can think of only one place in the city where coverage is any type of issue, and it’s not an area I frequent. So with the iPhone 4, the fact that I was only holding 4 bars at maximum, and typically 3, seemed a bit odd.

Later, I realized I was on EDGE service with hardly a bar to see, for most of my time before I jumped on my home wireless. As I started reading the news on various gadget blogs, I quickly realized I was suffering from the antenna problems that were plaguing almost ever other early adopter.

I dropped a few calls that weekend, including one to my father who seem’d to have lost my mother, but I could make due. The view from most of the people within the Apple world was that it was firmware related, and would be quickly fixed. Then Steve Jobs opened his mouth.

“You’re holding it wrong.” … or something to that affect.

Excuse me?

Beyond that, one of my co-workers (our telecom manager, of all people) got an iPhone with a totally non-functional home button. The only way she could close apps, is to reboot the phone. Since the Apple stores and AT&T were slammed that week, and the SIM cards are a totally different size, she was stuck with a broken phone until today when she was able to get a new one. I’ve also seen issues with the new camera, taking pictures of solid color backgrounds (especially in florescent lighting), where a green ghost appears in the middle of the image. Many I’ve talked to online (although non of my co-workers) cannot sync their iOS 4 devices to Exchange. My bosses phone started making a horrible clicking noise (what inside this thing moves?) yesterday although it seemed to be a one time event. I could go on and on, but just read Engadget, Gizmodo, or any other gadget blog for the daily iPhone/iOS bug.

Not to mention, simply holding the device in my hands for a couple days already allowed my wedding ring to put a scratch in the back glass so deep you can feel it with your finger.

My point is. Any one of these single events, may be something small and not worth getting upset about. Combine them together, and you have a product that is far from 4th generation and an operating system that already is flawed. Now, I’ve been around IT long enough to know major software releases have bugs, and that major hardware refreshes require driver and firmware updates to correct issues. But maybe I’d come to expect more from Apple, with their integrated platform, to expect something that would be near flawless by version 4.

While I don’t expect perfection in anything man-made, I found myself deeply disappointed in the device and the operating system.

Enough so that I’ve made the switch to Android. Yesterday I announced on Twitter and Facebook that I’d be leaving the job I’ve been at for over 4 years now. As a result, I’m turning in my iPhone 4 and going rouge. My new weapon of choice?

Nexus One

Ordered it from Google this morning, unlocked and out of contract, for AT&T bands. It has shipped, and arrives tomorrow. While I know there are other more interesting phones out there, and some like the Droid X soon to come, I will reserve my explanation for choosing the Nexus One for my next update … after I’ve made the switch and fully integrated later this week.

But this decision has some ramifications. Up until last week, I was all set to pull the trigger on the purchase of a Apple computer, something I’d never done before. I had a bright and shiny new iMac all picked out, and was waiting for some news on the job front to come through before giving Apple my credit card info for my own iPhone 4 and that iMac. But now, given my recent burn by Mr. Jobs, I believe I will be rethinking that decision.

Maybe one of those new AMD 6-core processors or a Intel i7, running something other than Mac OS X, is in my future as a home desktop replacement?


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on June 29, 2010.

Why lazy sysadmins and IE 6 make the net unsafe

The number of businesses still using Internet Explorer 6 is painful to see. Coupled with the fact that all of them are on Windows XP or Windows 2000, it turns from pain into terror, especially when it comes to security.

For a lot of system administrators, the reasons to stay outweigh the reasons to upgrade. Websites that break, plugins that won’t load, old software that isn’t updated anymore. Trust me, I’ve been there. However, a lot of it boils down to lazy and poor practices of system administration.

Yes, you’re lazy and you’re bad at your job. Internet Explorer 6 was released in 2001. Yes, 2001, most of us don’t even drive cars that old, let alone unleash people on the “information superhighway” with a browser that old. It was designed at a time when security was not the issue it is today. It was designed to work on operating systems like Windows 98 and Windows ME. Would you let people use Windows ME on your network? No! So why are you letting them use a browser that was built for it?!

“But it’s not our fault, we don’t write the bad software, or the non-compliant websites.”

You’re right, you don’t. But you have the responsibility and the power to keep your network, and the rest of the Internet safe.

The replacement for IE6 has been out now for just under 4 years. Actually, the replacement for it’s replacement has been out almost a year. Meaning all you lazy administrators had two chances to migrate your systems over to an updated browser. Yes, you’re lazy. If you have applications that “require” Internet Explorer 6, the decision should have been made to dump them or upgrade them long ago. A line in the sand should have been drawn that said you were not willing to support such an old and insecure piece of software.

Why is this such a big deal? Because security threats targeting users of Internet Explorer 6 continue to threaten the security of the Internet, and of your own network. Just this week, Microsoft admitted that IE6 was one of the vectors used to attack companies like Google. Why is Google still using Internet Explorer 6? Or I guess a better question is, why is Google even using Internet Explorer at all, when they develop Chrome? Either way, it’s disappointing to see that a company like Google, who tends to be on the bleeding edge of updates, is doing something stupid like running a almost decade old browser.

The most recent threat, has no effect on users of Internet Explorer 7 or 8, even on Windows XP. Actually, Jonathan Ness over at MSRC Engineering put together a nice little chart explaining what browsers and operating systems are at risk with the latest attack vector.

The short of it, if you’re still running Windows 2000 on workstations, you should be fired. If you’re running Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6, you should march into your CIO’s office on Monday and demand that you at least figure out how to migrate to Internet Explorer 7 ASAP, meanwhile worry that your network isn’t the next one to be attacked by these unpatched exploits. If you’re running Internet Explorer 7, you should turn DEP on to prevent future threats, or see if migrating to Internet Explorer 8 is possible.

But really, for the small group who has already migrated to Windows Vista or Windows 7, enjoy your weekend.

To all my fellow sysadmins out there: Stop being lazy, and start securing your networks.


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on January 16, 2010.

Giving users local administrator permissions on their machine?

A recent email discussion over a education security listserv got me thinking about the topic of giving users administrator rights to their local machines. This is a common discussion that comes up about once every month or so, when ever someone new joins the group. The discussion usually starts by asking for methods of removing administrator access in environments where rights have already been given, and then nosedives into a long discussion about the ethical and practical reasoning behind it.

There seems to be two schools of throught about all of this.

  1. Lock the user out of everything that would prevent malware from being installed or the user installing software they’re not suppose to, at the expense of user frustration and IT time spent approving and installing software requested by users.
     Basically, the users are stupid and cannot be trusted. IT will have to monitor them.
  2. Give the user access to everything and let them install whatever they want, at the expense of user frustration and IT time spent removing software they’re not suppose to have and malware that have been installed as a result.
     Basically, trust the users and clean up after their messes when they don’t understand what they’re doing.

In an educational setting, specifically in higher education, you have a lot of competing interests. You’re a business, selling a product (education) and have to compete with other businesses (schools) to gain more customers (students) — therefore, security like what you’d have at any enterprise is necessary. However, you have a group of highly educated and often times very ego-centric individuals called faculty that feel they have a right to gain access to anything and everything in order for them to independently do their job without interruption from IT, or having to ask them for assistance. I would imagine it’s something like working with engineers, but in this case 95% of the people have no idea how to use a computer. Last but not least, the university is an ISP, providing Internet access to students and employees on their personal machines. But that’s a topic for a future entry.

The idea that users need administrative access to their computer or that they somehow have a right to it is wrong in my opinion. When I go into my office, I have services provided to me by other departments on campus that I do not have full control over. If I need a light bulb replaced in my office, do I have a key to go do it myself or do I just call Physical Plant and have them come over? Sure it’d be faster and probably easier for plant to just go take care of it myself. Just because you can give someone full access to a machine, and they’re used to it at home, doesn’t mean they should have that access at work.

I have full access to the thermostat at home (well, I take that back… my wife does… I’m just a user there too) but I can’t just go adjusting the HVAC system at work how I want.

We make as much software as possible that we’ve pre approved user-installable through Group Policy Software Deployment and soon though System Center once we have that up and running. Our staff maintains a repository of approved software installs that require us to do it, so when the user cannot do it themselves it only takes us a few minutes. If a user walks up to our support center, we can usually get the software installed on their laptop right away. We’ve given our Help Desk very easy to use remote access software and can usually get stuff installed for them within 24 hours, if not as soon as they call in or email.

Does malware still get installed on systems where users lack administrative access? Yes. Which brings me to another point.

You also need to look at the amount of damage that can be done in the time period where a user with administrative access disables anti-virus to install something, or even where the AV client doesn’t detect it and the user isn’t aware enough to see what has happened. A few years ago, the malware was about annoying the user or deleting files, but as it has changed to becoming a security breach where data can be stolen often without the user even seeing they’ve been infected.

My wife works for a multinational accounting services firm, where she and her co-workers have access to information that would probably make any hacker wet their pants with excitement. Yet, they have administrative access to their company issued laptops, since they spend most of their time outside of the corporate office. In one case, she told me where one of her co-workers went weeks with a system she knew was infected with porn-popups, yet was “too busy” to do anything about it, like take it into the office and let IT look at the system. Did she know better? Despite required company IT education and training, probably not. Did my wife? You betcha.

That infection may have been harmless, or just designed to generate traffic to your friendly neighborhood porn site, but would the next one be so lucky? Sure, you may put good AV on systems and monitor them daily, but they can’t catch everything. It seems like we should be fighting to do everything in our power to prevent this from happening, even if it means it’s more difficult for the user and IT. The risk of not doing so outweighs the easy of use.

Do your users have administrative rights? Why or why not?


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on December 8, 2009.

Snow Leopard lacks security features present in Windows Vista/7

Noted Apple security analyst Charlie Miller, author of The Mac Hackers Handbook and two-time winner of the Pwn2Own hacking contest has said, in an interview with TechWorld, that the latest version of Apple OS X (10.6 AKA Snow Leopard) lacks full and proper implementation of memory address space layout randomization (ASLR). ALSR is a technology, present in Windows Vista and Windows 7, that randomly assigns data to memory to make it difficult for attackers to determine the address of critical operating system functions being stored in memory, and therefore making it harder for them to create exploits.

“It’s the exact same ASLR as in Leopard, which means it’s not very good,” Miller said, “Apple didn’t change anything. I don’t understand why they didn’t. But Apple missed an opportunity with Snow Leopard.”

When OS X 10.5 (Leopard) was released, Miller and others were critical of Apple not fully implementing ASLR. While there is ASLR present in both Leopard and Snow Leopard, they fail to the heap, the stack and the dynamic linker, the parts of the operating system that are most open to attack. Linux also has what many consider a weak implementation of ASLR since kernel version 2.6.12, although some distributions include better ASLR then the stock kernel based on third party code.

Miller did say that there are elements of Snow Leopard that show Apple did do some things to improve security, most notably the inclusion of data execution prevention or DEP, which utilizes both processor-hardware and software based security programming to help prevent buffer overflow attacks by blocking code from running in memory spaces that’s supposed to contain only data.

However, Apple may be late to the game with implementation of DEP, as it has been present in Windows operating systems since Windows XP Service Pack 2, with further refinements made in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

By incorporating both technologies, Miller says it becomes extremely difficult to craft memory attack exploits. “If you don’t have either, or just one of the two [ASLR or DEP], you can still exploit bugs, but with both, it’s much, much harder. Snow Leopard’s more secure than Leopard, but it’s not as secure as Vista or Windows 7.”


Originally published at techvirtuoso.com on September 17, 2009.