The Learned Elders of DotCom

I have discovered irrefutable proof of the existence of a the much-rumored secret cabal of shadowy industry leaders who secretly pull the strings of power, thereby directing the fate of our business – and indeed, our own fate. This group, who I’ve identified as the Learned Elders of DotCom, meet in secret, forging their unholy alliances and hatching their nefarious plots. There has been no shortage of circumstantial evidence of this new Illuminati for many years. Surely there is no other logical explanation for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? AOL? The popularity of the C programming language? Microsoft Bob?

It was with IBM’s release of OS/2 2.0 many years ago that I first suspected our collective destiny was being steered by The Elders. Sure, a real 32-bit operating system was nice and all, but did the distribution really require 23 floppies? It was at that point I began to suspect the leaders of IBM and Verbatim had forged a blood alliance. The “truckload o’ floppies” distribution clearly invited far too much suspicion, causing the Elders to invent data CDs, allowing hundreds of megabytes of bloated bits to fit on a single, innocuous looking disk. With Microsoft’s release of Windows 95, the collusion between the software giant and Seagate was plain to see, and the real purpose behind the CD become clear: buy more hard drives.

The latest example of The Elders’ handiwork – the undeniable proof of their existence – is almost beautiful in its diabolical simplicity. This scheme afflicts virtually anyone with a wireless mouse. If you, like me, were duped into purchasing a wireless mouse for its “freedom” and “convenience,” I invite you to do the following: look at the top of your mouse. What do you see? A few buttons? Maybe a scroll wheel? Exactly. Now turn the mouse over, and you’ll find maybe a little red light and perhaps a small button to engage the wireless connection. What’s missing? That’s right: THERE IS NO STINKING ON/OFF SWITCH! Your only choices are to make a substantial investment in Energizer or face the ridiculous inconvenience of removing your batteries when the mouse is to be unused for any length of time. Of course, you can buy a charger and some rechargeable batteries, but guess what? Energizer makes those too!

Now that I have blown the lid on the whole Elders of DotCom operation, I fully expect retaliation. I guess I might as well alert my attorney ahead of time of the impending RIAA lawsuit.

Where are the Smart Locksmiths?

Bill Gates spoke at the MS IT Forum in Denmark today, commenting that one of the primary problems with IT security is the fundamental weakness of passwords. He added that smart-card and biometric technology were, in his view, the authentication schemes of choice for the future. I totally agree that passwords are a weak link in security. Protecting critical systems or data with a phrase that can be stolen, peeked at, guessed, hacked, etc. is inherently scary. However, the reason passwords, despite their flaws, stay with us today is because, wherever you go, there they are; they’re convenient. You don’t have to remember to put your password in your pocket before walking out the door in the morning. You don’t have to keep a spare password under a hollow rock in your front yard. As long as your brain works (and if yours is like mine, it might take a few false starts before it does), you can get into your password protected system or data. Moving to smart card technology means that, like most automobiles, you must always remember to keep your physical authentication credentials on your person. And if you forget your cards, it’s not like you can just call up your computer club to jimmy the lock for you.

I do like the idea of biometric technology. After all, my fingerprints, irises, and DNA tend to be with me wherever I go. However, it will be many years before biometric technology hits the mainstream because there are a number of hurdles the must be overcome before mass adoption can become a reality. Chief among these hurdles is the lack of software and hardware support. Most authentication schemes support username/password or smart card, but few support biometric mechanisms. And while hardware such as fingerprint scanners are available at a relatively low cost, the are still not widespread, and integration with PCs is sparse. I also see a battle coming with privacy advocates on several fronts over biometrics, and it remains to be seen how these will play out.

Got you right where we want you

The New York Times reported recently that the popularity of Firefox has caused Microsoft Internet Explorer’s market share to slip 2.5% to a paltry 92.9%. It’s a both sad and humorous to me that Microsoft has so completely sewn up the browser market that it becomes newsworthy when their market share teeters on the brink of the mid-nineties. We all know that the real innovation in web browser technology came during the era when Microsoft and Netscape were duking it out for dominance. Of course, Netscape paid dearly for their choice of competitors, but the playing field is different today thanks to the legal smackdowns resulting from the Netscape-IE feuds. We can only hope that in the near future a 2.5% slip in market share for IE won’t be so news worthy.

Nice knowin’ ya, Palm

Speaking of market share, PC World quotes a Gartner report saying that Windows CE has overtaken PalmOS for the overall PDA market lead (excluding smart phones). Microsoft’s share now stands at 48.1% compared to PalmOS’ 29.8%. To put PalmOS’ free fall into perspective, they led the market last year with 46.9% compared to Windows CE’s 41.2%. I used to be a die hard Palm user, but I admit that over the past couple of years I have been slowly sucked into using Windows CE devices, mostly due to the ease of development with the .NET Compact Framework. However, I truly hope PalmOS can get back on track – we need the competition. Otherwise we may find it noteworthy if two years from now some upstart mobile OS makes a 2.5% dent in the market share of the Windows CE juggernaut.

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