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Software


adobe_flash_playerAs documented on /., six months ago I de-installed the Adobe FlashTM player on all my browsers.

This provoked some shock and incredulity from others. After all, Flash has been an essential content interpreter for over a decade. It filled the gap between an underdeveloped JavaScript and the need for media content like animation, video and so on.

It also fit a nice political niche. It allowed browser manufacturers to avoid the complexities of developing their own standards while fighting the browser wars. It gave the HTML5 committee (and their many interpretations among developers) time to come to maturity.

But along the way, it also went bad. Most crashes and security holes come through Flash, if you’re using a non-IE browser (if you’re using IE, expect the four-line highway that is ActiveX to help you find the security compromises you apparently crave).

Furthermore, Flash is based on technology that was unstable from the beginning. It began its life as a combination between animation software and Macromedia Director, which was already known for its instability. Since then, features have been added, piling complexity and mystery code into an already bloated runtime.

Six months after dropping the bar on Adobe Flash, I have to report a mixed bag of results — but no regrets. That is, I am blocked from some content and a few websites, but these are generally things I can work around. On the other hand, I’ve had near-zero browser crashes and absolutely zero security incidents.

Things I miss: most YouTube videos are Flash-based (although often if you find them embedded on a page, YouTube will provide an HTML5 version on the fly). HTML5 playback in addition is smoother than FLV videos ever were. There are fewer glitches, slowdowns, jitters and so forth.

Every now and then I encounter a website which requires Flash to proceed. Almost all of these are entertainment-based, and about half provide an HTML version of the site for us non-conformists. I have not missed anything vital, although I’ve missed a few internet memes. C’est la vie.

The most amazing thing is that I love my browsers again. I use FireFox, Opera, Chrome and IE simultaneously to get a view of my sites in different operating environments. I’m fond of FireFox and Opera, although Chrome is too “overly obsessive girlfriend” (OAG) for my tastes.

With Flash, I was experiencing 3-6 really big blowups per week across the browsers. I’d have just enough windows open to be pushing my luck, then click one more thing and whammo, the whole thing would shut down. FireFox has great crash recovery so it wasn’t usually a problem, but a few times, I lost everything I had open.

Since that time, I’ve had none. I seem to recall one browser crash during the last six months, and that may have been aided by simply excessive JavaScript load. Since I started keeping track of crashes out of curiosity, I’ve logged none, and my usage has not been less but perhaps more intense than usual.

It’s great to trust a browser again. I miss out on some videos and joke sites, but in exchange, I don’t have to have my nerves constantly on edge waiting for the next digital mushroom cloud. On the whole, I’m glad to be Flash-less and will never go back.

My hope is that as HTML5 evolves and FireFox moves to include H.264 video support again, fewer people will need the outdated and unstable entity that is Adobe Flash.

Although this sounds like a jihad against Adobe, it isn’t. I use and enjoy their other products. While I have doubts about their habit of seemingly outsourcing vital older technologies to bloated B-teams, many of their products are top-notch.

However, I think it’s time for me — and the web — to move on. Adobe Flash belongs in a niche created by the late 1990s browser wars, and now that these are mostly over, it’s time for Flash to go away. Try it. Your peace of mind and desktop stability will thank me.

bob-wayBob Way has a great post up about his brainstorm for a file-sharing system that technically does not include the actual data it shares, but can reconstruct it from a relative measurement of it, which is stored.

This is much like coming up with a mold for a part and using relative vectors to describe it, so that when needed, it can be re-created using some seed data and thus used to create the part in question.

Whether or not this is legal is well beyond me, and probably beyond our legal system. There’s a good argument that it is, since whether the data is stored or not, there’s a method of reconstructing it.

However, this is something the courts should have to test their mettle against:

The one-time pad’s magic was a close kin to the XOR swap’s. Both worked by temporarily storing, not the data itself, but a mathematical distance between two chunks of data. It was like broadcasting your location by saying “I’m 5 miles North.” By itself that phrase is valueless. Unless the receiver knows exactly where you measured from, he has zero hope of finding where you measured to.

“Everywhere is 5 miles North of someplace.”

It was a curious thought that kept the silly smile on my face a little longer…

Not only is the phrase useless because it contains no meaning. It’s multi-useless because it’s tells so little about so many things! I’m 5 miles north of Houston. You’re 5 miles north of LA.

“Whose data is infringing who?” I thought to myself.

Thing were even worse for the Houston and LA files. Millions of people simultaneously referenced those each for their own reasons. They certainly couldn’t be claimed by any particular individual.

Houston + 5 miles North = Me
Houston + 10 miles East = Jack
LA + 5 miles North = You
LA + 10 miles East = Steve

“There! Closed the loop.” Four locations encoded between four multiply-used data points. With no data attributable to only a single location.

Sure I’d lost the “one-time” nature of a pad cipher—but I wasn’t ciphering! This system would be used to find meaning, not to hide it. – “Old Moth, New Flame”, by Bob Way

It’s an insightful attempt to get around the problem of someone else’s data being at stake. The bigger question is how society’s going to fund all the software development, music and movies, etc. that we want if everyone pirates them.

Perhaps one answer is to violate a taboo and suggest that people aren’t equal, and some should have piracy rights, or at least extended academic curiosity rights. But then the madding crowd will clamor for that to be a “civil right” as well.

So I tried installing windows 8 in vmware.

The first time I got to the windows logo, then a black screen with a mouse cursor and it would not go further. I deleted the VM ware image and started over, this time getting about half way into the install before I got a blue screen with a sad face on it saying that it ran into a problem and had to reboot.

Upon reboot it would get to the windows logo and then a message box would pop up saying that there was an error and it needed a reboot and I could never get past there.

So far it looks promising.

- TUSSAUD

Linux creator Linus Torvalds says the open source kernel has become “bloated and huge,” with no midriff-slimming diet plan in sight.

“Uh, I’d love to say we have a plan,” Torvalds replied to applause and chuckles from the audience. “I mean, sometimes it’s a bit sad that we are definitely not the streamlined, small, hyper-efficient kernel that I envisioned 15 years ago…The kernel is huge and bloated, and our icache footprint is scary. I mean, there is no question about that. And whenever we add a new feature, it only gets worse.”

The Register

But according to the folks at TuxRadar, it’s not just the addition of major new features and support for a huge variety of hardware that’s making some distros start to look a touch overweight. Even the basics are getting pudgy.

They surveyed the number of options relating to 16 common UNIX commands in three UNIX/Linux distros from 1975, 1990, and 2009 with some startling results. The cp command has ballooned from no options in 1975 to 28 today, while diff has had to loosen its belt as it exploded from 1 to 27. And a once svelte ps with just 4 options in 1975 now waddles about with 84 today. Not a pretty sight, you could say.

EarthWeb

What’s the risk here?

But some people, particularly our Free Software leaders, are so mired in their hatred of Microsoft and proprietary systems that they will use only Free and Open Source software for the sake of ideological reasons alone.

ZDnet

A captive audience sees no flaws in its captor. This is why in the 1980s, Apple users would “debate” anyone who dared point out where Apple lagged technically. This is why today we have Apple fanbois and Linux fanbois, but not so many Windows fanbois… in fact, Windows fans seem to be retaliating out of sheer dislike of the Apple and Linux people. If we want healthy software, we can’t have fanbois.

People in “crowd sourced” movements contribute whatever they want. This is great, until you realize that it means a project that expands like poured cement. Direction is lost, as is shape. Bloat remains.

http://lists.freebsd.org/pipermail/freebsd-security-notifications/2008-June/000111.html

If you notice, our dear Colin sent out this email on the third to announce these EOLs that went into effect on the first. Good call, guys. It is this kind of lackadaisical behavior that is driving people to Linux.

BSD Magazine has published their first issue. Articles include:

  • FreeBSD 7.0 installation & configuration...
  • FreeBSD's bsnmp...
  • Pushing BSD as an open source desktop...
  • PC-BSD overview...
  • Sguil 0.7.0 on FreeBSD 7.0...
  • How to Dual-Boot Vista with BSD – a step-by-step approach...
  • Keep smiling, waste spammers' time...
  • Defense in Depth and FOSS...
  • BSD 1/2008 NetBSD on the NSLU2...
  • OpenBSD pf – the firewall on fire...
  • Instant Messaging with Jabber/XMPP...Interview with FreeBSD developer...

I have currently been searching Houston retailers for copies, but have yet been unable to find it on the shelves at Barnes&Noble (Champions), Borders (Upper Kirby) or Issues. It may only be available through online ordering at this time. If you find a seller here in Houston, please comment!

http://bsdmag.org/

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