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.

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.


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.

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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.

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Security and the “If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it” Mentality

(Originally posted Thursday, June 27, 2013)
“Why should have to replace a computer that’s working even if it’s 10 years old?” 
That’s not me speaking, it’s a relative whose identity I’ll protect (not that he would really care). There’s a foundation of solid logic behind this argument, at least at first glance. The things I bought this computer for 10 years ago are things I do with it still, and it works. So why should I change it? It’s possible – not likely, but possible – that this argument makes sense. But only if you’re cut off from the world.

Continue reading →


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