I’m back off ZDNet

I have decided to take at least a break from ZDNet, my only public writing gig. I may still write on contract for vendors in the meantime. But overall, tech writing is no longer a decent way to make a living. I think every year the number of positions making a living gets smaller and smaller and I’ve fallen off the list.

My current plan is to get back into writing software. I used to do it full time and I think I was really good at it, but my skills are rusty. I figure if I spend some time mastering some worthwhile skill I should be able to sell it.

But I’m also open to a full-time position using my knowledge of the industry, of security in particular and/or my writing skills. If you know of something in northern New Jersey or Manhattan please let me know.

Windows Phone or BlackBerry?

WP-BBI am such a rebel! No iPhone or Android for me. My next phone will be either Windows Phone or – yes, really – BlackBerry. Help me decide.

For about two years I’ve been running a Samsung Galaxy S4, a real top of the line phone when I got it. Before that for a couple years I had an iPhone 4S.

There has to be something better than this. And there is, although it comes with many of the inconveniences of the road less traveled.

I have had a BlackBerry as my main phone, probably 6 or 7 years ago. It had a lot going for it, but access to the Internet was not one of them. My next phone was a 1st generation Motorola Droid, partly because it had a physical keyboard. They keyboard was trash and I ended up not using it.

I’ve played with Windows Phones many times and the other day I bought a $50 Nokia 635 on Amazon and put my SIM in it. This is an excellent phone for an el-cheapo. Its only significant weakness is that there is no front-facing camera and the rear-facing one is very weak. Overall, I’m liking the experience.

But I’ve been following what BlackBerry has been doing for the last few years and they’ve done a lot of great stuff. I’ve used their BB10-generation phones and they’re truly innovative, particularly in an enterprise environment.

To help myself decide, I am putting together lists of advantages and disadvantages of each platform. Since I’ve taken it as axiomatic that I won’t be getting an Android or iOS phone, these are mostly advantages and disadvantages of Windows Phone and BlackBerry relative to each other.

Both BlackBerry and Windows Phones (at least the Nokias) have built-in FM radios, with the earbud cord acting as the antenna. This is such a simple and useful benefit, but Apple and (I believe) most of the Android handset companies leave it out, perhaps to drive users to online music and radio services.

Windows Phone

BlackBerry

Advantages

  • A statement
  • Really nice UI
  • A lot of apps I need – Outlook, OneNote
  • Swype-like
  • More hardware options
  • Shared profile with Win desktop
  • Nokia phones have great cameras

·

  • An even bigger statement
  • Phone button- easiest to just take out of your pocket and make a call
  • The keyboard
  • Excellent predictive type-ahead
  • Many Android apps

Yes, pulling out a Windows Phone inspires some quizzical looks mixed with some snickers, but I’m not just another iSheep. The BlackBerry in particular would look crazy, especially once people heard that it wasn’t forced on me by my employer.

There is one extremely valuable feature of BlackBerrys that no other phone has: the phone button. If you want to pull the phone out of your pocket/purse/whatever and make a phone call, with a BlackBerry it’s a quick and simple process. With any other phone you’ve got a few taps ahead of you. This is probably the feature which most beckons me to the BlackBerry, more even than the keyboard.

The user interface for the BlackBerry is pretty much the same icon grid that Android ripped off from the iPhone. Windows Phone is different and, I think it’s much easier to find what you want than on the others. The Live Tiles are sometimes useful, but I don’t want to make too much of them.

Windows Phone

BlackBerry

Disadvantages

  • Lots of important apps not supported
  • Limited hardware options
  • Universal apps might lead to greater section in the future
  • Lots of important apps not supported
    • Amazon Android apps mitigates this some, but not entirely
  • Extremely limited hardware options

The App Gap: This is the famous problem from which both platforms suffer. BlackBerry probably has fewer native apps and less momentum for them, but it also supports Android apps from the Amazon app store. (The fact that it supports these apps is yet another reason for nobody to write native BB apps, but overall it was a good move for BB to do this.)

In my research, the biggest personal app gap is in banking. I’m a Bank of America customer and use their app for check deposits. BofA used to have a Windows Phone app, but recently dropped support for it. This has me thinking about moving the one major bank that still supports Windows Phone, Wells Fargo. Technically, on BlackBerry I should be able to use the Android Bank of America app from the Amazon store, but the reviews make it clear that the check deposit feature doesn’t work on BlackBerry.

My main email is on Office 365. BlackBerry has excellent PIM features: email, calendar, contacts, etc., and I don’t expect any other platform to do better. In fact, Windows Phone is good at this, but a bit confusing, and it has seemed over the last couple years that Microsoft is more concerned with the user experience of their apps on iOS and Android than on Windows Phone.

But I do use Microsoft OneNote a lot. Obviously it’s available on Windows Phone and works well, but not on BlackBerry, not even through the Amazon store. There are a few 3rd party OneNote hacks, but I won’t be bothering with them.

Looking at the future it’s a reasonable possibility, although by no means a sure thing, that universal Windows application architecture will lead to more choice in the Windows app space. Probably not for a while though, and probably Microsoft is mostly thinking of enterprises.

When they think of the BlackBerry, most people think of the keyboard, and I do miss the physical keyboard. With BB10 they also added excellent predictive type-ahead software (you “flick” the right word up to the screen). The more I think of it, I have to say that the advantage has diminished because of Swype and the Swype-like keyboard on Windows Phone. I’m probably at least as fast on it as I am on a physical BB keyboard.

So this all seems to add up to Windows Phone getting the decision. Please tell me if I’m making a mistake!

The End of History

I was in the business at PC Week (now eWEEK) at the dawn of the World-Wide Web in the early 90’s. We did some speculating about the impact on publishing; IIRC, we saw early on that it wasn’t going to be pretty.

But one of the happy things we foresaw was that, as storage prices came down, it would finally be easy to get at old stories. There was no reason to take down old articles; they would just be more pages on which ads could be served.

We were right about the web devastating established publishers. We were wrong about the archive thing. For some reason, most publishers don’t want their old content up, or perhaps they just don’t care.

If you want to look at old editions of major newspapers and magazines you likely have to pay for a subscription service and these are not cheap. The New York Times appears to give full archive access to subscribers, which is a good idea to keep some people subscribing, but the Washington Post sells old articles for a lot, even to subscribers.

wpost.archives

But that it should happen to tech publications which were always free on the web and which have always existed online with ad sales seemsjust weird to me. But there it is. The really old articles from PC Week (now eWEEK) and PCMag when I was on staff are not available. They used to be available through a paid service, but I’m not sure even that’s true.

And given all the corporate mitosis that has characterized Ziff brands since I was there, it’s not clear that eWEEK owns PC Week’s old content, or PCMag owns theirs. And what about defunct publications like Windows Sources? There may be some CDs in a filing cabinet somewhere.

I freelanced for eWEEK for many years until 2011 and all of those articles seem to be up. You can get them with search, but some change they made has caused the article list on my eWEEK bio page to be empty.

I know what you’re thinking: “Who wants to read a review of Windows 98 Second Edition anymore?” Hard to argue with that, but many of the articles still have historic interest. Sometimes it’s just funny to look back at PC Magazine reviews in the days when they could compare 12 word processing programs.

I think it’s a damn shame. The entire history of PC Week and PC Magazine from their launches until today would easily fit on a single hard drive. But they’re probably lost to history.

My Best From ZDNet

Here are the stories I wrote for ZDNet over the six months of which I am most fond. In many cases, the ones I worked the hardest on and like the most did poorly in traffic. C’est la vie.

2015: Year of the Windows renaissance?
December 23, 2014
After largely avoiding Windows 8, I really got to like Windows 8.1. When Windows 10 comes along I’ll feel a lot better about it and so, I suspect, will everyone else.

Congress blocks ICANN transition. Good.
December 17, 2014
The “Cromnibus” budget bill blocks the Obama administration’s plans to relinquish control of Internet domain name and address administration. We’re all better off this way.

Continue reading →

I’m back on ZDNet

After a hiatus of over 10 years I’m back on ZDNet, writing mostly about security.

Some of my initial blogs there:

Rank the Classic Doctors

We’ve got a new Doctor (Who), Peter Capaldi. I believe the only thing I’ve seen him in was the 5 part Torchwood: Children of Earth, in which he played the heartless British Civil Servant John Frobisher. There was nothing extraordinary about his acting there, but the role called for a cold, businesslike bureaucrat, so it’s not really the best basis for judging him. Little of his work seems to have had an American audience.

I still prefer the Classic Dr. Who and I’ve been watching whatever episodes are available on Amazon Instant Video. I can’t find a poll widget that can do ranking, but please use the comments to rank the classic Doctors from 1 (best) to 7 (worst). Here they are chronologically:

William Hartnell
Patrick Troughton
Jon Pertwee
Tom Baker
Peter Davison
Colin Baker
Sylvester McCoy

and here is my ranking:

1. Tom Baker
2. Sylvester McCoy
3. Patrick Troughton
4. Jon Pertwee
5. William Hartnell
6. Peter Davison
7. Colin Baker

I’ve developed a real appreciation for McCoy.

Time to Drop Dropbox?

Nothing has changed the way I use computers in the last few years more than Dropbox. The ability to get at my files from anywhere has made a huge difference. But it’s the cloud – not Dropbox specifically – that has made the difference. Any cloud storage service that also supported all the platforms I need would do as well… wouldn’t it?

There are a few biggies in the market, but Dropbox is the biggest, best-known name. My opinion is that they got this good reputation for a simple reason: They have the best software. I’ve tried a bunch of these services in the past: Box, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive. There are others, like SugarSync, but I’ve never paid much attention to them.

About a year ago I gave Box and Google Drive serious attempts. I thought Box’s software was awful. Google Drive was OK as was SkyDrive, but at the time Dropbox seemed the best deal because the software was drop-dead simple and many of the people I was working with already used it. I have a 200GB Dropbox account, the subscription for which expires in October, so I thought I would re-evaluate things.

Continue reading →

Mobility management and security getting a little less messy

Security and management in the mobility space, at least since the dawn of  the iPhone, has always had a “figuring it out as we go along” quality to it. So far we’ve gotten away with it; even though the potential for significant security breaches via mobile devices has always been there, and even though compliance with best practices in mobility is a rare thing, I’ve seen no evidence that they are a significant source of actual breaches. The real problems are what they always have been: SQL injection, weak passwords, social engineering, etc.

In the meantime, the market for products to manage and secure mobile devices has been maturing. Of course management and security should be closely-intertwined, if not run by the same products. That can be difficult when the major products don’t include more than trivial management capabilities and very little is compatible cross-platform.

This has created an opening for third parties, and those third parties have flooded into that opening. Several large and important companies have emerged, such as AirWatch, Good and MobileIron. They have all been on acquisition sprees and are attempting to fill out the gaps in their management capabilities.

Continue reading →

USB-powered cat

USB-powered cat

NOTE: The green eye lights indicate that the cat is fully charged.

[credit: Pet Pix Pillow]

The Curator: Why Microsoft is forcing us on to modern apps

I’ve been struggling for a good year now with Microsoft’s decision to push users as hard as they are pushing them to use the new, modern user interface, what was once code-named Metro. Even in Windows 8.1, a.k.a. Windows Blue, it is the primary user interface. Why is Microsoft forcing us to use the new modern UI?

“Forcing” is perhaps too strong a word I suppose (although it’s a good one for a headline). You can continue to use conventional Windows programs – hell, even text-mode console programs – and keep using a conventional keyboard/mouse computer, but they’re all legacy now, at least for programs with significant user interface.

Moreover, and Microsoft’s protestations notwithstanding, Windows 8 is far less usable on a conventional computer without a touch display. You need to get used to a few gestures and then things are not as bad, but they are still markedly inferior to Windows 7, particularly in desktop mode.

Why would Microsoft make the old interface so undesirable? In order to make the new one desirable. Why? There are a lot of reasons for that, but one very big one is security.

Continue reading →

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