Friday, 27 January 2012

SOPA is not the answer to piracy

Ordinary people’s livelihoods need protecting from copyright theft somehow – but SOPA is too high a price to pay.

Apologies to software testing blog entry fans, but this week it’s another generic IT-related post. This can’t wait because, as you may have noticed, there was a blackout of several websites last week, most prominently Wikipedia. This was in protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act  (SOPA) going through the US House of Representatives, and although this is only a US law, like software patents it stands to affect the UK. The participation of Wikipedia has suddenly brought this issue into the spotlight, with pro-piracy activists, pro-control record companies and all sorts of people in between giving their points of view.

Let me be absolutely clear: I have no time for pirates, especially not those who run websites like The Pirate Bay. They are not noble crusaders selflessly standing up for internet freedom – they are big businesses who make a packet from advertising and subscriptions without the tedium of sharing the proceeds with anyone who made the stuff in the first place. Yes, the music industry has survived home taping, CD copying and bootleg market stalls, but file-sharing makes the practice much easier, so the issue must be taken seriously. I couldn’t care less if Jay-Z or the chairman of Sony-BMG can’t afford an extra Mercedes, but they aren’t the real victims. And I’m not talking about the people who work in the music industry (although this is a valid point the record companies make), but the small-time artists struggling to make a living.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Don’t be afraid to upgrade

Upgrading software in the workplace requires caution – but some companies make this far more complicated than it needs to be.

No, you’re not having a strange dream, Microsoft really is celebrating the demise of a flagship product. Continuing the tradition of celebrating milestones in web browser development with cakes, Microsoft’s latest cake marks the “death” of Internet Explorer 6 – or, more accurately, the decline in US IE6 usage to 1%. Microsoft have make a huge effort to get people off Internet Explorer 6 (obviously, they’d rather you went to Internet Explorer 7, 8 or 9 than Firefox, Chrome or Safari, but an effort nonetheless) through hasty development, advertising campaigns, and now even silent updates to upgrade remaining computers. And with Microsoft themselves admitting IE6 has had its day and even the die-hard open sources fans accepting that IE7 onwards is a big improvement, you’d think everyone would be happy.

If, however, you’re reading this blog from a UK government building, you may think you’re accessing news from a parallel universe. The UK public sector is inexplicably at odds with the rest of the world. IE6, like most early browsers, has a sluggish Java engine that runs at snail’s pace on modern Java-Rich pages. Most public web pages have now dropped support for IE6. And yet when the China hacking scandal exposed hugely embarrassing security flaws in IE6, and the French and German governments warned everyone off IE6 (and , for a while, later versions), the Cabinet Office insisted there was nothing to worry about.  To be fair, web browser security isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for government buildings – their strongest defence will always be the safeguards within the Government Secure Internet – but the web browser is the last line of defence in a compromised network, and it’s a reckless to rely on a web browser written before widespread broadband adoption and the security threats it brought along.