Super Web Tech: Chronicling the Evolution of the Internet

Videoblogging, podcasting, bittorrent, RSS encoding -- these and other fascinating innovations are ushering the internet into a new technological era. You can learn valuable advice about a variety of cutting-edge developments when you have the *Super Web Tech* advantage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Windows Vista vs the Video Pirates

Hollywood, Microsoft align on new Windows
Published: August 30, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT
By John Borland

The next version of the Windows [Vista] operating system [set to be released in 2006]... has unprecedented features for guarding against video piracy, as Microsoft seeks to assure Hollywood studios that their content will have extremely strong protection.
For the first time, the Windows operating system will wall off some audio and video processes almost completely from users and outside programmers, in hopes of making them harder for hackers to reach. The company is establishing digital security checks that could even shut off a computer's connections to some monitors or televisions if antipiracy procedures that stop high-quality video copying aren't in place.
"This is definitely being driven by Microsoft's desire to position Windows as a home entertainment hub," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft. "They're walking a line, trying to please both sides (content companies and consumers) at the same time."

These changes are worrisome to some computer programmers and digital activist groups. They fear that increasingly high security levels will block off avenues of programming innovation, or even stop computer owners from accessing portions of their own machines--a little like walling off a room inside a private house.

FAQ: Vista's strong, new antipiracy protections
Published: August 30, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT
By John Borland

[The] type of antipiracy technology often called "link protection" is a critical part of Vista. This tries to keep audio or video from being copied while it is sent from one device to another, or between different components inside a computer.
How does this work?
One of the biggest changes in Vista is a technology called "Protected Video Path." This will essentially keep video streams encrypted and inaccessible as video is being sent from a DVD (or other copy-protected source) to the monitor, TV or other display.... If it finds that there is a device that doesn't respect DRM [digital rights management] rules, or if it finds a plug that doesn't support transmission of those copy-protection rules, it might not let the video be sent through that output at all.
The company has released information about this system to the computer manufacturers in hopes that the secure connections will be standard on monitors and TVs by the time Vista is released.

As long as most users are unaffected in their media-watching experience as Microsoft hopes, this technology could be helpful from a content producer's perspective. Protecting copyrighted material is obviously an admirable goal. On the other hand, the fact that elements of the system are totally off-limits could hinder hobbyist programmers' efforts; the impact of disallowing their access to certain media functions is not to be underestimated. They are a major force in computing today, collaborating to create powerful works such as Mozilla Firefox, a frontrunner in internet browsers.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

PayPal Co-Founder Launches Photoblog Community

PayPal co-founder readies photo-sharing service
Published: August 26, 2005, 1:25 PM PDT
By Alorie Gilbert

What's new:
PayPal co-founder Max Levchin on Monday plans to launch Slide, a service that combines aspects of social networking, photo sharing, Web syndication and e-commerce in order to let members subscribe to one another's photo blogs.
At the heart of Slide is a downloadable desktop program that indexes all the photos on the user's hard drive and creates a slide show at the edge of the screen.
[Levchin] claims Slide's publish and subscribe tools are easier to use than other services (see below), which require some technical know-how and a familiarity with RSS. The general public... need simpler tools, he said.
Slide's "playback," or slide show, feature is unique too, Levchin said. The desktop toolbar looks like a strip of film with different photos in each frame, and it continually scrolls through a trove of stored images that people would probably rarely view otherwise. When consumers mouse over a particular shot, the slide show pauses and enlarges the image. The program gives people the option of e-mailing the photo from there.

The company plans to let members incorporate video, text and news headlines with photos too, creating multimedia "channels."
Slide's business model is another distinguishing feature. Advertising is the main source of revenue for most competitors, but Slide plans to sustain itself on commissions from facilitating online shopping. It has already inked agreements with online shoe store and designer-clothing outlet Bluefly. The Web stores have agreed to maintain a Slide photo gallery of their products with links back to their stores. Slide members can subscribe to the photos, and whenever they purchase something, Slide gets a cut of the transaction.

Slide isn't alone in its quest to gain a foothold in the digital photography arena. Here are some other competitors:
Imeem - Users can decide to share their profiles, blogs, photos and instant messages with friends, friends of friends, everyone on the imeem network or everyone on the Web, depending on the application. The search engine returns results only for the areas the searcher is authorized to enter.

MySpace -
MySpace - In partnership with Moreover Technologies, Microsoft's Internet division... add[ed] features to MyMSN [later renamed MySpace], its personalized Web service, that... let users find blogs and syndicate content using the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) format.

Yahoo 360 combines a new blogging tool along with several longtime Yahoo products, including instant messaging, photo storage and sharing, and Internet radio. It also offers tools for sharing recommendations about places to eat, favorite movies, music and so on.

Flikr lets users subscribe to photo feeds using the Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, protocol made popular by blogs.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Locked-out Broadcasters Turn to Podcasting

Locked-out CBC employees creating Internet broadcasts to stay on the air
August 26, 2005 - 16:02

HALIFAX (CP) - Locked-out CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] Radio staff have started producing Internet-based audio broadcasts to fill the void left by the labour dispute at Canada's public broadcaster.
The CBC locked out its employees in English Canada on Aug. 15 after the two sides failed to reach a tentative agreement after 15 months of negotiations.... At issue is the broadcaster's desire to create a more flexible workforce by hiring more contract and part-time employees. But the Canadian Media Guild said such a move threatens job security for full-time staff and limits opportunities for future employees.

More Info:
*CBC Unplugged - archive of locked-out CBC employees' podcasts
*CBC Negotiations
*Canadian Media Guild

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Email Authentication Proposals Target Fraud

The battle against spammers, especially those involved in online scams, has been raging for years. Numerous companies have proposed solutions to the problem, but as of yet there has been no consensus.

SenderID was recently approved by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). The protocol builds on the AOL-supported Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and proves that a sender is who they say they are by matching their claimed domain ( with the actual one in the DNS record found in every email server.

The effort is an attempt to fix an inherent flaw in the current mail system, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which has been used since the internet's infancy. Standard SMTP has no way of authenticating the sender. This shortcoming has caused widespread abuse of the system for scams such as phishing -- posing as a legitimate online business in order to steal personal information -- and faking one's email address.

In addition to the original and revised versions of SenderID, Microsoft has proposed other options. One was called No Spam at any (CPU) speed, which makes the computer perform a ten-second computation before sending a letter. This is fine for the casual user, but the number of emails a spammer could send each day would be drastically decreased, from millions to tens of thousands. Another scenario involves the sender paying a tax to the recipient if they don't seem trustworthy.

Microsoft claims in the above article that incorporating SenderID into a current email server is simple, but many people disagree. Among issues raised are the possibility of incorrectly-published records, a lack of feedback on whether the configuration was done correctly, and email systems which are spread out geographically and across partner companies.

Other groups have suggested solutions in lieu of SenderID. Yahoo! and Cisco are backing DomainKeys, which relies on a digital signature to authenticate message senders and will be royalty-free to anyone who wants to use it. Some of the original creators of email's basic technologies have suggested solutions which include the current SMTP over SSL/TLS setting or even rebuilding a new system from the ground up. The latter would prove difficult, though, based on the universal use of SMTP.

Until a solution can be universally accepted and implemented relatively easily, online identity fraud and other abuses of email will continue to plague the world.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Lackluster Response to SenderID

Sender ID's fading message
Published: August 9, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT
By Joris Evers
[links added]

>At the start of last year, Bill Gates [said]... that the problem of spam would be solved in two years.

But if the Microsoft chairman was betting on Microsoft's Sender ID to play a major role in achieving that goal, it looks like a losing bet.

The Microsoft-backed protocol to identify e-mail senders aims to stem spam and phishing by making it harder for senders to forge their addresses and by improving filtering. So far, though, there's been a lack of adoption by legitimate businesses. ~~
That could spell trouble. Confidence in e-mail is falling, as its abuse for online scams is growing. If legitimate businesses don't sign up for Sender ID or similar technologies, that trend could continue and undermine e-mail's usefulness.

"The majority of the adoption has been by rogue senders trying to get some legitimacy for their messages," said Scott Chasin, the chief technology officer at Denver-based [spam-filtering company] MX Logic.
The move was only the latest for Microsoft, which has been pushing for widespread e-mail authentication since Gates unveiled the predecessor to the current Sender ID specification in February 2004. But the effort has had its critics. Some have accused the Redmond, Wash., software giant of trying to strong-arm the industry into accepting Sender ID, especially given its warning that Hotmail may treat unauthenticated messages as spam.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Battle Lines Drawn Between iTunes and Cell Phone Companies

In the wake of watching Apple's iPod music player become the favorite mobile device among users throughout the United States, cell phone makers are ready to strike back. They plan to join forces with record labels in order to bring more music than ever to mobile phones, which overwhelmingly outnumber iPods and all other purchased MP3 players. Over 170 million people use cell phones. That number includes 80% of the entire population of Europe. The sale of ring tones -- sounds or songs which play in place of a traditional telephone ring -- netted $4.1 billion dollars last year, leading phone companies to believe that the mobile sale of music is a viable sales avenue.

Apple isn't leaving this market alone, though. In spite of a deal with Motorola last year which never materialized, their new version of iTunes hints at an upcoming cell phone compatible with their service. Usually-hidden files within the iTunes program "include messages such as 'Automatically choose songs for my mobile phone' and 'The name of my mobile phone is.'" This isn't a new phenomenom at Apple; other programs have been packaged with features that aren't apparent until a later hardware version appears.