Glenn Vanderburg

: Blog

6 of 6 articles
The race is on!
Tue, 16 Sep 2003 (16:55) #

I know a lot of people who've been waiting eagerly (and not altogether patiently) for Apple to finally update the 15-inch Powerbook. Mike Clark wrote his own switch commercial to advertise his impatience.

Now they've finally made the announcement, just as you might expect, Mike and others like him are making their moves:

Zoom zoom!
Tue, 24 Jun 2003 (12:13) #

The single coolest feature -- at least from a purely technical standpoint -- of the last major version of Mac OS X was Quartz Extreme. When I first installed Jaguar, graphics operations were noticeably speedier, and it was nice to know that much of the work was being done by the graphics card, not by the CPU. Then I discovered screen zooming (find it under "Universal Access" in system preferences). It's a breathtaking effect. I often use it during demos when giving a talk, because other windows on the screen use smaller fonts than PowerPoint, so it helps the audience if I can zoom in on them. I nearly always hear some under-the-breath reaction from someone in the audience when I first zoom in.

It was immediately clear that screen zooming was achieved by exploiting Quartz Extreme. The fact that the entire desktop is now an OpenGL scene, with each window an OpenGL object, makes the effect both easy-to-implement and fast. James Davidson and I immediately began wondering when Apple would begin using that underlying tech to do other neat things with the desktop.

We didn't have to wait long. Yesterday Apple showed some previews of Panther, and there are two features that exploit the power of Quartz Extreme to good effect.

The first is Exposé, which I described to a friend as "the Win2K 'Show Desktop' button, minus the 'sucks.'" Try out the demo on the webpage, and you'll see windows smoothly receding from view until all of the windows on the screen are visible, and then zooming back to normal size again.

The second is Fast User Switching. When you choose to switch to another user's account, your entire desktop switches over to the new user's desktop using a "rotating cube" transition (á la Keynote).

On the website, Apple introduces that effect by saying, "Because we can." In user interfaces, at least, a little of that attitude goes a long way -- but I think this is a great place for it. Dazzling effects like that would be distracting and annoying in most parts of the interface, but both of these events -- stopping to look for a new window, and switching users -- are inherently disruptive events, and they're great places for Apple to show off a bit. Architecture isn't everything, but it does matter, and nobody knows that better than Apple (who labored under the burden of a terrible OS architecture for years). Of course, the OS X architecture isn't perfect, but starting from a mostly clean slate is a big advantage, and now that they've pulled the switch off I'm sure they're gleeful.

Be careful with the desktop experience, Apple -- but keep having fun. It's one of the things we like about you.

I don't blame them.
Sun, 16 Feb 2003 (20:38) #
I can't stop giggling at this, from this month's edition of Bruce Shneier's Crypto-Gram:
An amusing, but irrelevant, incident: A week after the [Slammer] worm, I was invited to speak about it live on CNN. The program was eventually preempted by the Columbia tragedy, but not before the CNN producers invited Microsoft to appear on the segment with me. Microsoft's spokesman -- I don't know who -- said that the company was unwilling to appear on CNN with me. They were willing to appear before me, they were willing to appear after me, but they were not willing to appear with me. Seems that it is official Microsoft corporate policy not to be seen in public with Bruce Schneier.
Microsoft says: Don't trust Microsoft
Thu, 21 Nov 2002 (15:47) #
(via my O'Reilly blog)

There's a new security hole in Microsoft software. An ActiveX control, supplied and signed by Microsoft, can run arbitrary programs on your computer. Microsoft has issued a fixed control, but there's still a problem: sites can request the vulnerable version, and it will be fetched and reinstalled.

Microsoft's solution: remove Microsoft from your list of trusted providers (if you ever put them there, that is).

It's tempting just to chortle at this, but it illustrates serious problems with the code-signing approach in general. Way back in January 1997 I wrote that the ActiveX security architecture wasn't actually a security architecture; at best it's a blame-assignment architecture. I believe that even more today.

I've worked on projects that do code signing. And there are big security holes in the whole process. Think about how organizations work. Too many people will have access to the signing key. Signing becomes part of the automated build process, and it stays there even if security audits fall by the wayside. (Assuming, of course, that there ever were security audits.) You have to be careful with trusting individuals. Why would you ever grant blanket trust to a corporate entity?

Ken Thompson was right. The problem of trust runs deeper than technology.

General Magic is shutting its doors
Wed, 18 Sep 2002 (18:06) #
I just read that General Magic is closing down. That makes me sad.

In addition to having one of the best company names around, General Magic pioneered one of the things that has really drawn my interest over the past 10 years: secure mobile code. Their Magic Cap operating system (and the Telescript language it was built on) was designed to change the world, and got a lot of attention for a while. Pavel Curtis slammed their vision of the Internet pretty hard in one of the best conference talks I've ever heard (the closing address at the 1995 Winter USENIX), and he was correct -- but they nevertheless tried to do a lot of things right.

They had a booth at JavaOne last year. I hadn't thought about them in a while; I was surprised to learn that they hadn't already gone out of business. In one sense, it might have been better if they had -- reading their material at the booth, they seemed like just another mundane J2EE/XML/enterprise computing/wireless buzzword company. A far cry from the visionary dream of their early days, and certainly not very magical. But you do what you've got to do to survive, I guess.

Except that giving up that dream didn't work, either.

Why does my PowerBook fan run all the time?
Thu, 12 Sep 2002 (15:58) #
I thought for a while it was some rogue application eating up CPU, and sure enough Mozilla, Chimera, and NetNewsWire all seem to waste cycles when they're not obviously doing anything. But it happens even when I kill them. And I've just realized that it only seems to happen when I'm plugged in with the power adapter.

Looks like it's related to the "processor performance" setting under Energy Saver. I wish I knew more about what the "reduced" setting means. How slow is it? Is it always reduced, or does it just pull back the throttle when the temperature is too high? That's the setting I would like to have for use when the power is plugged in: full speed ahead unless things get hot, and then pull back to avoid having to run the fan at high speed. (For most things I do, I prefer quiet to blazing performance.)