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Why even pay for software? A declaration against poorly implemented DRM

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I’m guessing you wouldn’t usually expect me to make a post like this, but seriously, where is the incentive to pay for software these days? Yes, it is unfortunate how millions of people pirate software nowadays, but by now it has to be clear that there is little to nothing that can be done about it.

Those that can afford to buy software generally do pay for it, but I have found the hard way that it isn’t always worth it, and this is becoming truer as time goes on thanks to poorly implemented DRM (Digital Rights Management).

When Microsoft released Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit it was rather pricey, but I still went out and purchased two copies right away – one for me and one for testing. Although I have paid for the software I’m extremely tempted to avoid the genuine activation and simply crack it. But why would I do such a thing for software that I have paid good money for? Well, it’s simple. Because of the large number of people that pirate Windows, Microsoft has felt compelled to punish the suckers that actually buy it.

Hateful DRM practices jeopardize the end-user experience

Hateful DRM practices jeopardize the end-user experience

Every time I change a major piece of hardware I end up with a warning message informing me that I have two days to reactivate my copy of Windows. Okay, that’s not so bad. Just click re-activate then shall we. Hang on, that didn’t work, and now I have to ring the Microsoft support center based on India and try to communicate a 60+ digit code to someone I can barely understand. After that process is done I can finally use my computer again. Yay! Well… at least until I need to change/upgrade something again.

The alternative is to run a 20 second patch that removes the Microsoft activation altogether, meaning that I will never be inconvenienced again when upgrading, an inconvenience I apparently paid good money for. Again, the options: to pay for software that is going to have you pulling your hair out every time you change something, or get it for free without any of the catches.

Over the years the countless re-activations of my computers has not only improved my Indian accent, but also simply become a way of life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Julio Franco

February 6th, 2009 at 3:41 am

Why I wouldn’t buy the new MacBook… and probably you shouldn’t either

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Although I rely on my desktop PC for long work sessions and I stand by the fact no laptop will ever beat a fully equipped desktop (dual monitors, and in general, the works…), there is an obvious need for a laptop whenever I’m on the move.

When my old Thinkpad T needed to retire, I looked into the Vaio TX series, at the time the best 11″ ultra-portable money could buy with its mere 2.9 pounds. That was months before the MacBook Air and other similar ultra-portables arrived to the market. Unfortunately the small size didn’t cut it for me and had to look elsewhere to replace the Thinkpad until I finally decided to get a MacBook Pro. In spite of the fact that I’m a Windows user, I did it with the purpose of checking out the then new Leopard OS X release.

Today the MB Pro remains as my primary laptop. Although I have my gripes about OS X, I have remained more or less content about the hardware which has proved to be of top quality construction, all while running Windows Vista. You have probably heard the stories of how the MB Pro makes for a great Windows laptop anyway, and in my case that has hold true – in fact, I haven’t touched Leopard in months.

And now with the well publicized release of the new MacBooks, I started looking into the possibility of getting a new laptop, but instead of the Pro I was checking the upgraded MacBook which is cheaper, has got many of the Pro’s biggest selling points like the aluminum body, powerful specs, but sports a smaller 13.3-inch screen that is also LED illuminated. Sounds good so far? Until I saw this…

Those images were taken by Gizmodo in their first look at both the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. As you can see, the colors on the standard MacBook get all washed out depending on the viewing angle. Then my disappointment has been further reinforced by the fact that many, many of the outgoing reviews for the MacBook barely touch on this point, just mentioning the use of the glossy display which would be less of an issue if the laptop shipped with a quality LCD panel like its more expensive sibling.

In my experience those screen issues are characteristic of older laptops or current entry level models (any brand). Then again my Thinkpad T42, which admittedly wasn’t entry-level four years ago doesn’t suffer from that issue, and at $1300-1600 for a new MacBook, you can’t call them budget either.

With a strong pro-Apple movement going on around the web and growing Apple laptop sales, the word is that the new MacBook is like a smaller Pro without the discrete graphics. I have to dissent, and now you know why.

Update: I’m glad to see Anandtech’s review of both new Mac laptops give light on my assertions above unlike a majority of reviews I have read so far from so-called experts.

As it turns out, the new MacBook screen is an improvement over the older generation which had an even more lacking viewing angle. Really bad for a laptop at that price point IMO. But if you want a superb quality screen, the MacBook Pro will have to be your choice. As I understand it, the MacBook’s Air screen is not too bad either though I have used them on a very limited basis.

Written by Julio Franco

October 24th, 2008 at 12:16 am

The reason I will never buy a Mac desktop

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While browsing around this morning I stumbled upon this bit of news: “Apple released a new graphics upgrade kit today.” For those Mac Pro users out there (that is, the tower desktop system, not the laptop) can now upgrade to a GeForce 8800GT for about x1.5 the actual price of the card, ain’t those wonderful news?

GeForce 8800GT


When Apple released the Early 2008 Mac Pro, they offered the NVIDIA 8800GT as an upgrade option, however due to firmware issues, the 8800GT was not compatible with previous generation Mac Pros — until today.

And here’s a reaction by a Mac Pro owner, taken from Apple’s website:

YES! We all know how good this card is and 1st Gen Mac Pro owners can now use it…

Perhaps you may want to grab an overpriced memory upgrade kit from the manufacturer as well?

Written by Julio Franco

April 17th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Craiglist listing gone really bad

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When I read this I couldn’t believe myself, apparently it’s not the first time happening either. I have never used Craiglist but this kind of story makes it easy to believe how powerful of a network it has created in some areas (in case you have never been to the 1997-looking site, it’s all about local classified postings).

Most folks recall the story about the Tacoma, Wash., house that was trashed after a woman posted an ad on Craigslist telling people to “please help yourself to anything on the property.”

Well, some mischief maker in Jacksonville, Ore., apparently decided to re-enact the Tacoma house-trashing scheme. According to this Associated Press story, Robert Salisbury came home to nearly 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch. Not only that, when he told the trespassers to give him back his belongings, he was rebuffed.

The Craigslist post advertised all of Salisbury’s stuff–even his horse–as free for the taking. The woman who showed up to take his horse finally started to feel uneasy about the whole deal when she realized that the horse looked perfectly healthy, and well, seemed to actually belong to someone. She left a note on the door and then decided to call Salisbury to make sure that the ad was legit.

Full story here.

Written by Julio Franco

March 26th, 2008 at 2:08 am

Vista crashing in the most simple of tasks

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So let me rant for a bit. After defending Windows Vista, not because I like Microsoft but because based on my experiences I have had relatively few problems with the OS, last night I saw it giving me a deja vu of the early Win95 days!

A solid install of Vista now running SP1 was put to the test… burning a data DVD with 1GB worth of files. The result? A 15 minute wait, followed by a hard crash (that is, I had to manually shut down my system to restart). I can forgive all the driver incompatibilities you want, but DVD burning? Good thing, Nero finally works well with Vista.

Written by Julio Franco

March 20th, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Crazy, crazy funding for a web startup

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Just like a bad habit or a reality TV-like guilty pleasure, over the past few weeks I have grown accustomed to check out startup-related blog TC once a day just to see what’s popping around the web. It’s been exciting times for a while on the web now, the late nineties bubble is well forgotten, and a massive wave of very useful and profitable services based on the Internet are here with even more on the way.

That’s not to say there aren’t crappy ideas and lots of copycats popping up as well, all of which are usually covered by TC, but that’s just part of the nature of a fast growing industry. There seems to be a lot of excitement from investors as well, so demand for more potentially viable businesses is quite latent despite of recession concerns in the US. But something that quite shocked me this last week, and that’s what I wanted to share today, was the announcement of a $15M funding for blog widget ShareThis.

Now, I won’t call it undeserving because it’s a very cool widget that works quite well with many blogging platforms, and I may even implement it here at some point, but for a widget that has a very limited scope and has yet to come up with a way to make any money, that’s a huge figure that will rarely become justified.

Revisiting some of my thoughts from last year, I don’t want to scream it’s an Internet bubble all over again. For starters, the web today is already a hard proven medium that is competing hand in hand with television and newspapers. Also, for an Internet-based business like TechSpot, a second dot com bubble on top of an imminent US recession would just be terrible, terrible news.

But once again I wanted to raise a red flag regarding stuff like this that in my opinion poisons somewhat the realistic scenario of where the web stands today and where it will belong a few years from now. If for a moment I thought investors should know better, I will think again.

Edit: I just realized that the post title “Crazy, crazy funding for a web startup” could imply saying that $15M is too much money for ANY web startup, which is by far not the case, not does that reflect my thinking. What I meant was, too much money for THIS specific startup.

Written by Julio Franco

March 16th, 2008 at 1:27 am

How to run Windows Live Messenger on Windows XP x64 and Server 2003

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Sorry, Windows Live programs cannot be installed on Windows Server, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, or Windows operating systems earlier than Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Being a new user of Windows XP x64 that message puts me off quite a bit, apparently Microsoft wants you to install the old and ugly MSN Messenger instead of Live Messenger if you happen to run the state of the art version of Windows XP. However, as you will see, Windows Live Messenger can be used in full, but Microsoft in its infinite wisdom just made the installer incompatible!

Live Messenger 8.0 seems to be the latest version on the Microsoft Download Center where support for Windows XP x64 is specifically mentioned. In version 8.1 only Server 2003 is mentioned. If you download v8.5 you will receive the message above during installation… Notice also that the size of the file is reduced considerably because this is just an installer that then downloads the features you choose to install.

On the official download page for Windows Live Messenger you can read this under requirements:

Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP x64 are not supported.

What is so ironic is that Windows Live Messenger is fully compatible with XP x64, as a matter of fact I’m using it right now. So what you have to do is download the file I mentioned that the unsupported installer downloads. Take note though that you will not get any prompts during the install, it is silent, since you are supposed to make those choices in the unsupported installer… What this means is that you are saved the trouble of unticking the boxes about installing MS toolbars and changing your browsers home page to the dreaded MSN sites.

Also worth mentioning is that Windows XP x64 shares its codebase with Windows Server 2003 x64 and even uses the same service packs!) So this should apply to Server 2003 as well, just like drivers for either OS work fine with each other.

You can download the bare MSI file of Windows Live Messenger v8.5.1302.1018 here. While you are at it check out A-Patch that allows you to disable many annoying features of MSN like advertising – it’s beyond me why MS advertises in their own client. And when you have come to your senses you can may as well download a decent chatting client instead ;).

Oh, and here is the command to uninstall the Windows Messenger (not the same as MSN Messenger OR Live Messenger) that is bundled by default with the OS. Just copy and paste the following into Start > Run and Windows Messenger will be gone: RunDll32 advpack.dll,LaunchINFSection %windir%\INF\msmsgs.inf,BLC.Remove

Written by Per Hansson

February 4th, 2008 at 11:55 am

Drivers and Windows Vista

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Mostly when people post something about Vista it’s either bashing it or praising it, however those two camps generally agree on one thing; that drivers have matured quite well since its release.

I’m gonna create a third group now; they are both wrong!

UAC, admin accounts, memory requirements and all other stuff aside, I’ve concluded one thing: unless you have a very very top of the line computer you have no business running Vista. And this has actually nothing to do with Vista itself at all, quite the shame because that leaves me out on an otherwise easy punch in the stomach :D

You might have seen my post about performance in Crysis with the 7900GT. I just ran some tests with a 8800GTS 512MB now. What I can conclude from this is that XP will give you 63% better performance in Crysis compared to Vista if you have a 7900GT, and only 16% better if you have a 8800GTS 512MB.

In other words, it’s not just Creative that releases miserable drivers, Nvidia is quite high on the list too (though they still have a long way to catch up with Creative, IMO :D)

Written by Per Hansson

January 3rd, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Adobe bloated software, and how to disable automatic updates

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Personally, I hate the trend of software adding bloat in subsequent versions as much as I hate people saying an application is bloated just because it’s no longer a simple one-dimensional kind of program. That said, Adobe current crop of products have to be some of the worst in this sense.

At this point I’m sure nobody doubts the deserved dominance of Photoshop in the world of digital photo editing, just like Microsoft Word or Excel are your overall best bets for documents and spreadsheets despite of its cost. But when the very creators of the PDF format ship its latest reader which takes twice the amount of time for opening files than third-party software like Foxit Reader (on a high-end PC, for slower machines it can be as much as a 10x difference!) you know something is very wrong then.

But that is just one of the many examples I can give you. The Adobe installer is just damn horrible. For a moment I thought this would be limited to the Windows version of the CS3 Suite, but when I downloaded trial versions of Fireworks and Dreamweaver for the Mac, it was quite the unwelcomed surprise to see that the bloated and painfully slow installer is also used under OS X. I have to admit that adding a bunch of ‘required’ middleware like the “Extension Manager” is not something I enjoy, but I find much worse the inclusion of the stealth Adobe Updater. You may be surprised the first time this updater pops up because it doesn’t leave any traces in the Windows registry and is not listed as a startup program. So, unless you are running a full fledged firewall (which you should but there aren’t many good ones for Vista yet), the program could run and download updates without your consent. In fact it’s quite likely you won’t notice this running unless it’s taking away your bandwidth, or CPU time (bloat, remember?) or an interruption in your Internet connection happens, which will make it complain and thus become evident it was running behind your back.

Furthermore, Adobe doesn’t give you an easy way to turn this feature off beforehand, but rather you can configure it while it’s running – there’s no access through the Adobe programs’ options menus – or you will have to manually edit a configuration file (AdobeUpdaterPreferences.dat) as detailed here. Adobe, you still make really good software, but I may have to look elsewhere in the future if you make this an on-going trend.

Written by Julio Franco

December 20th, 2007 at 1:00 am