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Comment Re:Give up PCs? Not likely... (Score 1) 197

If we want to do this kind of lockdown

For the record, that's a mighty big "if".

It wouldn't take much at all to expand that to every machine; all it'd take would be MS adding "in order to keep machines secure, don't allow disabling Secure Boot" to the Windows Hardware Certification requirements

And the resulting monopoly-related lawsuits in every nation that would support them, not to mention almost inevitable regulatory action in jurisdictions like the EU, would most likely be the final nail in the MS coffin.

Even if that didn't do for them, Intel and the major manufacturers of Intel-related motherboards and other hardware within the same architectural family are already under pressure from tablets (most of which are sporting ARM-based hardware) at the casual end of the market. The last thing they want to do is put all their eggs in one basket, particularly a basket as wobbly as Microsoft has been in recent years.

There are so many existential threats to the businesses that would need to participate in such a move, and so many well-funded organisations including many in governments that would have a lot to lose, that I still think it's completely unrealistic for the mainstream Wintel ecosystem to go that way. If anything were to lead to that sort of result it would more likely be a steady creep from the direction of smartphones and tablets where relatively closed and inflexible ecosystems are the norm, but even there the signs are that the initial glow is fading as users both become more aware of the pros and cons of such devices and tire of the cost and hassle caused by the lock-in effects.

The coming war on general-purpose computing and The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing are a good idea to read.

They were thought-provoking articles back when they were written, but again I'd say the recent evidence is that people are increasingly tired of these games. A new generation has grown up never not knowing what it's like to have their own PCs and consoles and mobile devices, and fast near-permanent Internet access, and a huge range of software available at the tap of a finger, and all that comes with this kind of technology. They've also grown up more aware of related issues like privacy and security, and wise to a lot of the problems that caught older generations off guard, even as the patience of the older generations themselves is wearing thin and they become less tolerant of the ever-worsening experience as tech businesses try to squeeze ever more profit out of them.

Consequently, there's been a lot of talk recently about things like on-line privacy and ad-blocking. Perhaps more telling than the talk are the moves by some of the biggest businesses in tech to actively support such things, even if means shifting industry norms or taking on governments. In fact, there is even a hint that some in those governments are finally becoming aware of the issues -- there have, at long last, been some substantial steps recently to bring copyright laws and on-line consumer rights at least a little closer to the 21st century in some major jurisdictions, for example.

I do think the writing is on the wall for some tech firms at this point, but from my perspective it is because their customers are becoming less tolerant of junk and starting to demand better quality for their hard-earned cash. Firms that ship software that doesn't work or causes security problems, businesses that leak personal data like a sieve, content distributors that try to double-dip with subscriptions and then ads, communications networks that over-charge and under-provide, on-line businesses that offer minimal customer service... All of these are increasingly on borrowed time unless they change their ways, and that's just in the B2C world. As soon as you go B2B, there are many more examples of long-standing schemes that are under threat in our increasingly open and competitive world, and consequently businesses are likely to be even less tolerant of attempts to lock down what they can do than private individuals.

Comment Re: Micropayments? (Score 1) 197

Well, part of it is that even a small payment can still incur a psychologically large cost.

That's certainly true in my experience. It's probably the second thing you rapidly discover when building your first B2C web site, right after "If you build it, they probably still won't come."

I think the main requirements for a micropayment system to be successful would probably be simplicity and transparency. Anything that requires lots of interactions, like paying x cents for each and every post on a site like Slashdot, is doomed before it even starts because it's far too much hassle. On the other hand, something where the user's experience was reading a one-liner that said access to the site for a week cost x cents and then making literally one or two clicks to accept this might actually catch on, particularly if there was a very limited number of payment types and all participating sites were required to comply with some simple, transparent, universal terms set by the micropayment service so users could trust that they weren't getting scammed.

I think given such a simple but effective foundation, you could then build sensible policies about access control, security, and the like on top. But I think you need simplicity, transparency, and of course trust in the system before anything else matters.

Comment Re:Micropayments? (Score 1) 197

I agree with you that ad blocking is also a safety issue. I have only ever been hit by a virus once that I'm aware of. It was a zero-day in a well-known plug-in, on a system that was fully patched and running AV software, navigating a big name site you would have expected to be completely safe, via a popular link aggregator/discussion site.

I now have a 100% ad-blocking policy. I don't turn the blocker off for anyone, and if a site doesn't like that then I say fair enough and go elsewhere. I have some sympathy for sites I use regularly that lose out because of this, but it was two of those sites that led to my system being compromised so I don't have that much sympathy. I might pay a reasonable amount to support such sites if there were a convenient and safe way of doing so, but my policy on blocking ads and similar third-party content is never going to change as long as anything resembling the current software and web landscape is the norm. My feelings on this are only being strengthened by the evolving software and firmware situation, since these days if a machine is compromised you can't even count on a total reformat and reinstallation clearing the infection.

That being the case, and knowing that others will be similarly stubborn, I can't help thinking that your suggested approach would be fundamentally undermined because it relies on people to actively opt-in to receiving ads. I doubt more than a tiny fraction of users would choose to do so, and surely someone would produce a browser that had these ads off-by-default and use that as a competitive advantage.

Comment Re:Micropayments? (Score 1) 197

Yes, the payment mechanism would be the big question.

Personally, I suspect anything more complicated than 1-2 clicks using a preconfigured payment tool that it integrated into the browser is likely to be too much friction.

On the other hand, if you could actually have a system where, say, you get to read the first section of a long form article and then there's a button you can click to pay them x cents to immediately access the rest via that payment tool, I could see that working and I think you could build a useful degree of standardisation, flexibility and safeguards on top of that basic model.

Comment Re:Give up PCs? Not likely... (Score 1) 197

Now, are you still thinking it will not happen?

Yes, I'm still thinking it will not happen. For one thing, it's completely unrealistic that governments would co-ordinate such a move effectively in that global economy you mentioned. It takes them years to put together a big trade deal, with plenty of controversy and opposition in many cases. Heck, they still haven't managed to close the gaping tax loopholes used by multinationals, despite every government except the tax havens saying for years that they want to.

Even at a single country level, huge amounts of business also relies on that free software to do things like... Well, almost everything. The moment CIOs at Fortune 500 companies start explaining to the board that it will no longer be possible to do (insert 9-figure-revenues project here) because no-one is offering the software to do it without a 10-year lock-in and 8-figure per annum support contract, people are going to start noticing what they've lost, and 8/9 figure political lobbying efforts to reverse the madness will immediately start. Not to mention the billions in lost tax revenues from small tech businesses that can't afford to continue, the millions of unemployed developers who all have a vote, and so on.

Comment Micropayments? (Score 1) 197

One potential solution to this would be an efficient micropayment system, but unfortunately that seems to be the idea that eternally "has potential". I don't know what's holding it back in reality. Maybe it's financial regulations in different countries, maybe it's pressure from the existing payment industries, maybe it's that no-one has found UI with sufficiently low friction yet, or maybe too many people just want everything for free to give a critical mass of early adopters.

In any case, I'm actually kinda hoping that the increasingly bitter ad-wars will force us to fix that. I believe it would be good for society to move back to the kind of model where producers of good, original content can actually generate a useful level of revenue directly as their incentive, and where they in turn can concentrate on presenting that content in a useful and attractive way to their readers instead of distorting the presentation to maximise ad revenues.

Comment Give up PCs? Not likely... (Score 1) 197

I think you forgot all the people who use general purpose PCs to create the content that the smartphone/tablet brigade so enjoy consuming. Oh, and almost the entire business world.

If any government were foolish enough to attempt something like what you describe, enough people and businesses who wanted/needed to use technology sensibly would relocate that the economic damage alone would probably bring down that government at the next election.

Comment Re:No, I'm really not (Score 1) 311

I typically distinguish between security patches and general feature/UI patches. The former are essential and obviously time-sensitive. Moreover, they evidently represent defects in the original product, which the developers might reasonably be expected to fix. However, shoving more general changes down users' throats if they want to keep up-to-date on security patches is abhorrent behaviour as far as I'm concerned.

Comment Re:Fuck Mozilla (Score 1) 311

But it doesn't really mean that, because each evergreen browser implements each feature at a different pace, and sometimes in a different way. There might be something approximating some mostly-agreed new feature in a new update from some browser within a few weeks of deciding to add it, but it might be a year or more later before the support is stable and you can actually use that feature in production and expect it to work the same way across all of the major browsers, even just the evergreen ones. How long did it take Firefox just to be able to render rounded corners the way we do today? Or Chrome to have acceptable web font rendering quality?

Comment Re:Fuck Mozilla (Score 1) 311

The Mosaic era stuff had died out by IE 2.

FWIW, you're definitely wrong on that one. I was doing work in the field at the time, and Mosaic was still very much alive on Mac platforms around 1995 when IE2 came out.

I'm writing to you on my Mac / Safari. My question is not "which is the best browser in Nov 2015" but rather "are any of the browsers better enough than Safari to be worth switching?". That's a harder battle for Firefox to win.

Agreed. I just think most of the things that really did make Firefox attractive a few years ago were to do with its flexibility. For example, you could install a choice of ad-blocker long ago in Firefox, while such things have finally arrived only much more recently in certain other mainstream browsers.

What does it mean to be a "standard" that Webkit doesn't follow?

Given issues like Apple's refusal to allow any browser on iOS to use its own engine and Google's fork of WebKit to create Blink, I think that is a more complicated question than you might have intended. Indeed, with the fork, there is probably more need for standards now than ever to prevent the two drifting apart needlessly.

Once there were other alternatives... They don't really have a business now.

Well, they still make a lot of money and employ a lot of people for an organisation that doesn't have a business.

However, I can't see them continuing to do that if Firefox continues to lose market share as rapidly as it has been in recent times. Their revenue has overwhelmingly come from their search engine integration deals according to their published financials.

They also spend an awful lot of money on software development for an organisation that has a main product (Firefox) in a flat spin, secondary products (SeaMonkey and Thunderbird) that they barely seem to do anything with any more, and a range of other projects with varying usefulness and potential but little revenue generation potential.

Comment Re:Hmmmmm.. (Score 1) 311

The trouble seems to be that they aren't leaving enough functionality available for extensions to bridge the gap. Dropping features to keep the basic weight light and then leaving it to extensions to provide more specific functionality would seem very much in the traditional Firefox style, but that's exactly what they've messed up since moving to rapid releases.

Comment Re:Fuck Mozilla (Score 1) 311

The push for standards came well after as Microsoft overtook Netscape and the Mozilla organization began to push for an open (not tied to Windows / ActiveX) web.

That seems a little one-sided. As I remember it, the biggest battle in the browser war of that generation was probably IE4 against Netscape 4, which was around the time that those really became the dominant browsers and the earlier ones of the Mosaic era finally died out. I'd say it was around the same period that what we might call modern web development was born, with web sites starting to be taken as a more serious form of communication and the arrival of significant numbers of web surfers outside the government and academic communities. It was also around the same period that having actual standards for HTML and CSS started to matter, and during the following few years that Microsoft came in for increasing criticism over their embrace-and-extend strategy in the face of those standards.

That's entirely different than the world that came to exist as Apple, Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in web rendering technology.

There is also the small issue that those three sources represent close to 100% of preinstalled, default browsers today. It's somewhat ironic that just as Microsoft have been paying a bit more respect to web standards with IE10-11, both Google and Apple have overly shunned them. Mozilla have tried to follow suit and certainly haven't done it as well, but they had more to lose in the process. I think that was a huge strategic mistake that will probably lead to the collapse of their business within the next 3-5 years unless something dramatic happens to their product line.

Comment Re:That's just a matter of specs (Score 1) 311

It appears our experiences have been almost polar opposites. I have seen few issues with IE10 compatibility in any of the projects I work on, and even fewer for IE11. I have seen so much breakage due to Firefox updates over the past couple of years that it's not even funny, particularly when using anything vaguely new like HTML5 multimedia, canvas/SVG, etc. If I had to sum it up, I'd say Microsoft haven't implemented new features anything like as fast in IE, but when they do implement something that implementation is generally usefully complete and of good quality. Chrome and Firefox implement new stuff all the time, but it can take literally years before the quality is actually acceptable for production use.

Comment Re:Hmmmmm.. (Score 1) 311

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "browser element" and "web element" or whether your assumptions are therefore realistic. But in any case, how is this any different to any other combinatorial problem for interactions in software architecture? And how come it can't be mitigated by constraining components' behaviour and limiting their ability to interact, also like any other similar problem in software architecture?

I've got a bad feeling about this.