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TROST: Open-System Trustworthiness

2010-04-08

 

Don’t You Just Hate It When …

… You visit a site, create a comment, and

You are asked to log in and you have no idea that you have a password for the particular site.

… You attempt to register at a site, and

They tell you that your e-mail is already registered with them because they are part of a conglomeration of sites none of which you recognize at all and/or have saved a password and account entry for in your password safe.

… They prefill a form with your user name or e-mail address

But it is because you created an account on some other blog of the same service but you filed the password under the name of that other place, having no idea you were registering for wordpress or typepad all over the galaxy and actually had no intention of doing so and you don’t remember what that other place was anyhow

… They will take an OpenId

But you have to explicitly register an account anyhow, and your already-filled comment form is lost in the process.

… They insist on inviting your automatic Disqus logon if the cookie is spotted

But then you have to disable the indiscriminate e-mail river of Disqus commentary because it drowns your inbox and so, tell me again, why did I want to use Disqus?

… You can’t find your password and you seek their help

Only they clearly send you what must have been your original password in a plaintext e-mail.

This situation makes me very happy that I use a random-password generator for every new account, so that the password protects only that one logon and nothing else.  I am unwilling to have the key be more valuable than the lock.


You may notice that I have stopped using Technorati tags, since they seem to have no effect whatsoever and I haven’t figured out how to have them make a difference with any alternative source of tags.  I should figure out de.licio.us, I suppose, except in that case I should first figure out why my de.licio.us feed has stopped.

I also use categories, well no … I use Blogger Labels which are sort of like categories except it is hard to find out what they are and place a current list and links on my sidebar.  Blogger backlinks and Blogger labels remind me of the propensity of some Microsoft developer types to do-it-their-way when there is already an established practice out there.  Yes, developers just want to have fun. But inflicting their NIH syndrome on the rest of us is not OK.  Go do that in the privacy of your own home, please.

For the labels, I think I will periodically post a message that simply goes into every category I have used (Windows Live Writer knows what they are), so I can remind myself not to make up more and maybe even prune the list where I tend to always use multiple labels in combination.

Aren’t you happy that I have spiffed up this blog to the point that it serves as an invitation to my regular blogging on whatever strikes my fancy in the moment?  Just wait, there are five more blogs and I have a great deal of pent-up blogging from my 18 months nose-down in document-standards work.

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2009-06-14

 

The Fate of Microsoft Outlier Customers

I recently noticed that three of my favorite Microsoft products are to be no more: Windows OneCare (why are they still selling it?) , Microsoft Encarta, and Microsoft Money.  That was striking for me and I have created a contingency plan for each of those products.

On reflection, it is not a new thing for various Microsoft applications to transmogrify and eventually disappear.  Although I have never had an interest in Flight Simulator, I am still a devoted user of Microsoft FrontPage.  If Microsoft Works were as clean and simple as the MS-DOS version, I would still use it.  I have also used a variety of picture editors and photo editors that were bundled in various Microsoft products and that seem to come and go with each new computer system and occasional Microsoft Office upgrade.  Some day, I suppose I will have to do without Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker, especially as future versions/replacements demand hardware capabilities I don’t possess.

Now, Microsoft is not making a fortune for me as an occasional upgrader of these products (though I quietly paid my OneCare subscription renewal each year).  It is interesting that not until the abandonment of FrontPage was announced did I begin to feel the squeeze and the lack of an appropriate replacement for abandoned Microsoft products.  (E.g., Expression Web is both more and less than what suits my current web-development practices.)  Now I now need to look for three more substitutions and also look at long-term measures for protecting my systems and my electronic financial records as well as maintaining my web sites.  For the three latest-discontinued products, I find that I have three different contingency measures in place. 

Wait, I Like Encarta

When I read that Encarta was to be no more, I resolved to go find a copy of the latest version.  I have a version completely installed on my hard drive and it is a handy reference.  I confess that I mainly use the dictionary (the default setting for the Encarta Search Bar kept handy in my Windows XP task bar).  The encyclopedia is handy but it doesn’t get searched by Windows Desktop Search (a little incoherence there) and I find myself on the web (and Wikipedia) more often than in Encarta because that’s where Windows Desktop Search (and now bing) lead me best.

I’m currently running version 14 (Encarta 2005) and I actually had one monthly update that I didn’t install until last week.  The reluctance to update has to do with needing to be administrator when I do it, and I usually forget Encarta updates when I am running as administrator for other maintenance purposes.  It is a demonstration of my unnoticed waning interest that I didn’t know I had one update left from 2005.

Nevertheless, I wanted to have the latest and greatest if there were to be no more.  Unfortunately, the latest version seems to be Encarta Premium 2007 and it is still pricey, even though pro-rated refunds were cut off on April 30.

I settled for the less-expensive Britannica 2009 Deluxe with the hope that the included dictionary and thesaurus is as easy to use as the one I am abandoning from Encarta. 

Not Money Too.   No, Not Money!

The shocker for me is last week’s announcement that Microsoft Money will also be no more.  I checked, and my oldest Microsoft Money backup is dated 1999 and it has entries from 1998-01-01.   I tended to hold onto versions of Microsoft Money.  I didn’t switch to Money Plus 2007 until the version I was running under Windows 98 couldn’t be installed on Windows XP as I was off-loading the Windows 98 machine at the end of 2007.

I don’t like Money Plus 2007 as much as the older pure-desktop versions.  The change of the user experience to one with integrated web features is mostly a nuisance.  The software performs more slowly and I don’t do those on-line things.  But I like the reports and the extensive history of purchases (and depreciation records) is important for me.  I prepare my tax returns from records maintained in Microsoft Money, and I have had some success balancing my bank accounts using downloads that Money will rely on.  (The experience is rather variable and I often simply balance statements manually instead rather than deal with what it takes to correct for a failed automatic account update.)

I discovered that my version of Money Plus “expires” in September at the end of November.  Ones activated this summer will have support extended through January, 2011. 

It seems like a no-brainer that what I want to do is install another downloaded version and continue to use it until I have a satisfactory replacement.  I will also want to keep a copy around as long as possible to enable my use of existing records.  I will need to discover how to export some of those for use in other products, or as spreadsheets that I can preserve in OOXML/ODF.

So I have another Money Plus Home and Business download and a product key for it.  I will install it at a point this summer when I am carefully backed up, exported, and ready to risk an upgrade.

Goodbye OneCare, It’s Been Good to Know Ye

Microsoft OneCare arrived at just the right time for me.  I had tired of Norton Antivirus upgrades and a growing drift from what worked just right for me starting before Norton/Symantec Systemworks and going back to a time when there really were Norton Utilities.  I valued the simplicity all-in-oneness of OneCare for the following provisions:

  • Annual support on up to three SOHO computer systems (exactly what I had that needed the protection around here)
  • Constant nagging and support for regular backups
  • Outgoing firewall protection

It wasn’t the most wonderful product, but it was also steadily improved over the time I used it, right from the beginning of its availability.  It did deal with my dominant computer security concerns. 

OneCare also provided me with a great source of system-incoherence anecdotes, and I must recount some of those while I can still capture screen shots of the experience.

Actually doing backups onto DVDs was not the most exciting experience, as much as OneCare made that possible.  Once backup functions were taken over by WHS, the cleverly-named HP Mediasmart Server (with its Windows Home Server version of Windows Server 2003) now on the network, that difficulty was mitigated and there are now automatic, incremental backups every night. 

Still, OneCare works well and effortlessly for us, even if it reports that backups are woefully out of date (a new little incoherence on how OneCare has forgotten WHS is on the job). 

It was also great that Microsoft announced that all OneCare support agreements will continue until their expiration.   That means mid-September 2009 here. 

On the other hand, the promised Microsoft replacements for OneCare are not in sight.  I believe the last promise was for around August.  I am beginning to squirm.

There appears time to find an adequate substitute, taking into consideration that Microsoft will offer some sort of solutions for some unknown degree of protection where I find it the most valuable for the computers here.  Unfortunately, it is not clear that there is a decent non-Microsoft product that works here, regardless of the high reputation a number of Antivirus producers have achieved.  The low reputation that is Microsoft’s automatic prize is apparently more myth than reality in my experience.  On balance, OneCare works better than anything I have attempted to replace it with.

Here’s how my search is working out so far.

Since OneCare is to be no more, Windows 7 beta and Windows 7 RC not only had no provision for it, those releases were actually hostile to OneCare.  So on Quadro7 I have been going through trials of other Antivirus products, partly to determine a good candidate to be installed uniformly on all of the systems here.  None of the products tried so far seem to integrate well with Windows 7, which has apparently changed the rules enough that AV producers are having some difficulty.  In particular, I have not found an AV product (even the Windows 7 directed beta releases) where Windows 7 reports that it is protected and the Windows Home Server concurs in reporting that my systems are protected. 

Having tired of Symantec (and enjoying the liberation that OneCare provided), I haven’t gone back.  My latest experience with McAfee was on WHS and that led me to prefer no AV there instead.   (That experience also led me to be more cautious about the judgment of folks at Hewlett-Packard and the trial installations they chose to push to WHS.)

Meanwhile, on Quadro 7 I have gone through one trial of Kapersky and another of Trend Micro.  I actually bought a retail copy of Trend Micro but Windows 7 chokes on that.  Instead, I now possess an useless license since the Trend Micro beta for Windows 7 won’t accept the older-product registration code except when it installs as an update, and that doesn’t work on Windows 7.  I’m moving on to F-Secure’s beta for Windows 7 right now and the trial lasts out past August.  With luck, I might have a consistent Microsoft solution to deploy across all of the computers here.  And if not, I will need to find a product that has an affordable multiple-machine license (as Trend does) and that doesn’t require me to use a web site to know my status (as McAfee Total Protection does). 

There are clearly interoperability issues here, and the level of coherent integration is a challenge.  It is a challenge for Microsoft too, but as one might expect, OneCare integrates more cleanly and, apart from an apparently-inescapable level of Microsoft paternalism, works most consistently and coherently than anything else I have attempted to use in its place.


Update 2009-06-15-04:06Z Correcting an expiration date for Microsoft Money.

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2008-12-06

 

WTF: The Adobe Flash Version 1x Crisis

Had any problems with Flash Player version detection lately?  Try updating to Adobe Flash Player Version 10.  Prepare to be shocked by the poor quality of Flash version detection in the wild.

After upgrading to a clean install of Adobe Flash 10, I discovered that nearly all video sites that worked for me in the past began denying that I had a version of Flash as good as what that they required.  Still other sites deliver Flash video to me just fine and, on occasion, I am able to experience the higher quality HD streaming that some sites now support.   It is amusing to see who fails to deliver video to me and what they have to say about it. 

I leave as an amusing puzzle how one determines what is going on and what the bug is likely to be.  My suspicion is that the bug is hilariously simple yet spread like some sort of plague throughout the Internet.

Adobe is experiencing its own version of the Y2k disaster, only in a simpler and more hilarious form.  As far as I can tell, the problem is not Adobe’s.  The difficulty is that many sites are completely unprepared for this version of the Flash Player.

[2008-12-08T20:37Z update: Further analysis reveals that my particular problem is related to permissions in some way, not simply comparing version numbers incorrectly.  I have no trouble with Flash 10 detection and playing when I am running as administrator.  The difficulties arise only when running as a limited user.  This doesn’t explain why I am successful some of the time as a limited user, and more forensic work is required.  For details on the dissection so far, see “WTF: Umm, Flash 10 Detection Not So Simple.”
 2008-12-07T00:37Z update: Well, the sample Client-Side Detection in the Adobe Flash Detection Kit 1.5 definitely fails to detect Flash 10.  The script is a bit hairy and one problem may be related to how Flash Player 7 and later versions are recorded in the Windows Registry.  Assuming that the version string is found properly, the next problem may be in the logic of JavaScript function DetectFlashVer.]
 2008-12-06T22:43Z update: I put the questions about this up as a teaser on StackOverflow.  I am already seeing a couple of interesting comments.  The frightening prospect is that the bug is in detection code that Adobe (still) recommends.  So, I had to add the eReader page’s failing of its own demonstration of the proper solution, below.  Stay tuned.]

Here’s how I experienced the widespread (for me) Flash 10 detection failure.

Flash Reports Successful Install (click for larger image)

Updating Flash.  On November 24, I encountered a pop-up advising me of an update to the Adobe Flash Player.  This one promised full screen HD playback, faster performance, and security enhancements.  I wanted it.

Because I run as a limited user when on-line, actually installing the plug-in took a little more effort.  Before I was done, I had removed Flash completely from my computer and then done a fresh install. 

On November 25, I had a successful installation in Internet Explorer 8 beta 2.  (No cracks: IE is not the problem here.  Sometimes I need compatibility mode for a site to render properly, and those issues are separate from whether or not Flash will play.  I have Google Chrome, and could try its Flash plug-in except I need to be admin to install it, as usual.)

This display appeared in IE8 when the install succeeded.

If I select updating any time later, no downloading will occur and I see this display near-instantly.  At this time, version 10.0.12.36 is the latest and I have it installed already.

Hulu shows HD of recent Fringe episode (click for larger image)

Successful HD Video.  Here’s an example of the high-quality video presentation available on Hulu, my favorite site for watching movies and television episodes.  This snapshot is a few seconds into the 480p feed of a recent episode of Fringe.

Hulu works so consistently, while so many other sites are failing, that I was concerned that the site wasn’t serving up Flash at all.  To make sure I wasn’t receiving Silverlight video, I inspected the source code of the web page.  Yes, it is using the Flash Player.  The code is in nice AJax structure and I can find where the player is operated, although I can’t determine how the version is checked.  I also see how messages that I need Flash are produced.  That isn’t happening.

The Flash 10 Player is recognized by Hulu, which plays everything just dandy. 

Change.gov little embedded video works great (click for larger image)

Nice embedded play on Change.gov.  On December 4, I also visited change.gov because of an interesting phenomenon there. 

Here’s a simple video in its own frame on the Change.gov site.   The video and audio play just fine.

I don’t know where this particular video is hosted, so I looked for another that was part of the YouTube video collection for change.gov.

This YouTube-branded video also shows up on change.gov (click for larger image)

Change.gov shows YouTube well.  Here’s a larger video frame from a different page on change.gov.  You can see that the video is YouTube-branded in the lower right corner of the video frame.

What’s fascinating about this and any other YouTube video is that viewing directly on a YouTube page will fail, as shown below.

It also fails if I go to Y! Video for the Yahoo presentation.  The MSN Video works just fine.

Kyte has the most-accurate message of all (click for larger image)

The best rejection of them all.  This is the only accurate message that I received.  About Face author Alan Cooper should be very pleased that someone is learning how to present straight-talking, factual messages.

It is valuable that this message reports the only thing that the Kyte site can be sure of.  It doesn’t speculate anything about my computer and what the problem might be.  If you’re going to fail, do it this way.  This is evidence for a level of care that inspires trustworthiness.
YouTube Fails Flash Detect (click for larger image) YouTube the know-it-all.  Here’s brash You Tube guessing what’s wrong with me.  The statement is completely false.  Also, remember that YouTube video that plays just fine from change.gov?

So, somebody is doing Flash Player version detection differently (i.e., properly) compared to most everybody else.  I wonder how we’ll learn what the difference is.

PS 2008-12-06: Ironically, Google Video does play through Flash 10.  Viddler plays beautifully (and that says a lot about Chris Brogan’s relationship to trust).  MSN Videos play as well, also using Flash for delivery.
This particular CNN page reports that it detected Flash 0 CNN Fails Twice in One Blow.  Notice the version it reports that I am using.

At first, I thought the problem was that all of the failing implementations are truncating “10” to “0”, but that would be misleading.

All we know for sure from this display is that the version was truncated in making the message, assuming it is using a detected version at all.

An interesting aspect of the CNN site is the number of different implementations of Flash viewers there are.  I include two more in the rogues gallery below.
Yahoo! Pretends It Is Stuck (click for larger image) Yahoo! wants my attention.  I went to the solutions page. 

Meanwhile, back on the page that had this message, I start hearing audio.   Returning to the tab with that page, I see that the video is indeed playing.  It is a reduced video image that does not play in the full frame of the Yahoo! player on the page, but the video is playing.

It is difficult to get to the AP feeds in a direct way, and I haven’t tried comparisons with other sites that carry AP or other services delivered via Yahoo!
Yahoo! offers this solution while playing he video anyhow (click for larger image) Not so great, Yahoo!  This “solution” is amusingly inaccurate.  It may be true that they require the version they do, but upgrading won’t get it for me.  The fact that the video was playing while I looked at this makes for a rich Internet experience.
The Site for Demonstrating Flash Detection Done Right: FAIL! (click for larger image)

Oh Oh, Adobe FAIL?  This image shows failure of Flash 10 detection on a web page that is proudly showing off the correct way to detect Flash 8 or higher.   I found this in a link on the Adobe Developer Center article “Best Practices for Flash Player Detection.”

The article has some great demonstrations of hubris:

”Well, folks, today is a good day: The search is over. The wheel has been invented. And tested. And taken on a nice, long road trip.

“Say hello to the newest detection script, which you can implement easily using Macromedia Flash 8. Much like the Six Million Dollar Man, it's better, faster, and stronger. And as an added bonus, you can actually rely on it.”


ending with

”Finally, tell every web developer you know about this article. The sooner Flash Player Express Install becomes standard, the sooner we can stop frustrating users and start handling Flash experiences in an effective manner and improving user experiences on the web.”

Apparently, that is exactly what happened.

The late Michael Williams provided, in 2005, an Adobe Developer Center article on “Future-Proofing Flash Player Detection Scripts.”   There are some weird solutions, but it looks like they should detect Flash 10 (but maybe not Flash 26).
The Client-Detection Sample from the Adobe Kit: FAIL! (click for larger image) Adobe’s Example Fails.  The Client-Side Detection example in the Adobe Flash Player Detection Kit 1.5 fails to detect Flash Player version 10.

Examining the JavaScript file suggests a number of ways that DetectFlashVer might go wrong.  Determining the actual defect requires some careful forensic reconstruction.
Adobe Action Script Example Tries Update (click for larger image) Adobe Unhelpful Helpfulness.  The Flash Player Detection Kit also provides an example of an ActionScript detection technique.  This sample will automatically invoke installation of an ActiveX plug-in, but when I allow it to run all it does is quickly report that the version I have installed is present (as if it has installed it anew).

This “10.0.12.36 Installed Successfully” has no impact whatsoever on the already-reported detection difficulties.  In particular, the Client-Side Detection example still fails.

It is time for that careful forensic reconstruction.  I am also curious about the way that the Windows Registry is accessed as part of ActiveX detection activity.
Joi's site reports I have an old version of Flash (click for larger image) Joi’s Wedding-Present Clue.  I have a theory about what is happening here.  It is the kind of thing that is going to embarrass a lot of Web developers while those who got it right are laughing their heads off by now.

[update: The Vimeo video is working fine on Joi’s own site and the link-through to Vimeo.  The full-screen HD rendering is not bad.  But the above message still occurs when I use the direct video link on Joi’s FriendFeed stream.  That makes this a self-contained systems-incoherence demonstration along with the confirmable experience (until they fix it).] 

OK, Let’s Figure This Out, Aye?

I can’t be certain that every detection failure has the same bug, but the odds of a Y2K sort of failure are pretty high.  The way I think it happens is a little different, but it requires having gone from “9” to “10”, giving lots of time for the defective code to be shared among far too many Web developers around the globe.

I’ll leave it at that.  This is a great challenge question for novice developers and experienced ones, the latter probably having committed this one at least once themselves.  I can see how I might have been caught by this myself, although I’d like to doubt that I would simply because I am always aware of representation issues from my experience in early programming languages and machine-language programming.  I am also inclined to over-engineer edge cases, and that might have been appropriate in this case.

Meanwhile, here’s a rogues gallery of other sites that have an unfortunate approach to Flash Player version detection.

CBS insists on Flash 9? (click for larger image) Dylan's Video optional anyhow (click for larger image) 

CNN claims 8 or better (click for larger image) Well, OK, 9 or better (click for larger image)
So 10 not newer than 8?  (click for larger image) Did I leave home without Flash? (click for larger image)
Funny or Die? (click for larger image) Oh, sorry (click for larger image)

There you have it.  I’m sure this is not pleasing for Adobe.  Let’s just hope that the detection problem is not from an Adobe-provided sample of how to do it.  [Update: It appears that the problem has been promulgated in Adobe-promoted materials.] 

[2008-12-06T19:20Z update: I went through and added links to the actual sites and videos where there is narrative.  I also noted some successes where sites simply worked as expected.]

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2007-10-20

 

Punishing Standard Users: When Will It Stop?

[update 2008-11-27 This page is moved from Orcmid’s Live Hangout and retained here as part of the topical archive on confirmable experience and software incoherence.  I was moved to do this, and salvage more Hideout material, by some remarkable experiences a full year later.]

There is a slippery tug-of-war going on between Microsoft and third-party application developers.  This even has Microsoft application-product and developer-product development teams fighting/ignoring/neglecting/throwing the mud that is piling up on the user doorstep. 

I'm talking about the effort to have users operate safely and snuggly in Standard User Accounts (SUA) and the actions taken by application developers and their employers that completely fail to respect the user in this matter.  No matter how much has been said and published about how to deploy applications in a way that works easily for standard users, there are continuing expectations that users run as administrator all of the time.  This is made the simple case, reinforcing a practice that we all know to be unsafe (although Vista has a mitigation that some people insist on disabling). 

Picking on Second Life

Here's an example of what I mean.  I choose it because it is typical and because it all happened while I was looking for a way to illustrate this.  Second Life is representative (although no less disheartening).

The Setup: I haven't been on Second Life for a while, which means there is doubtless a mandatory update that I'll be required to install before I can get "in-world."  This is so predictable that it actually keeps me away from Second Life even longer once I have been away for more than a week.  I start putting off the pain of downloading and installing another release.

Today I was doing some system clean-ups and celebrating the new power-backup unit I installed after a series of storm-related power hits defeated my old battery backup.  As a reward, I was tidying up some loose ends after running system tune-ups and catching up on important things like my Facebook presence.

Nice New Update Announcement

SL-2007-10-20-1120-UpdateAvailable  I decided to check into Second Life and see what's new.  When I brought up the application (and I was running as administrator because I had been installing some other updates), I found a message that I have never experienced before.  The message was in a corner of the Second Life client user interface.

I hadn't logged-in yet, but the application apparently checked on-line for an update and it had that message for me.  I went ahead download the 1.18.3.5 release into a location on my computer where I save Second Live releases.  (I usually keep the current one and its immediate predecessor, along with screen shots of my experience.)  Now, I usually don't turn on any automatic check for updates, and I don't recall ever being offered an option in the matter.  Since Second Life is an on-line application, I am not surprised.  I am surprised this showed up before I opted to connect to the on-line system though.

Not So Fast There, Sparky!

SL-2007-10-20-1121-UpdateRequired  I downloaded the announced update while still elevated to computer administrator, but I didn't install it.  I was excited by that "now the choice is yours" phrasing.  I wanted to see that in action.  I clicked the Connect button to sign into Second Life.  Oh, what have we here?  The usual.  Not exactly a choice, huh?  This is the dreaded message I have come to expect. 

Since I don't want to do this as an on-line administrator, I clicked Quit.  I already have the update.  I can install it when I am good and ready.

My previous experience using the Download button is that Second Life will download and attempt to run the install.  Because my computer account is normally set to "limited account" the install will fail and I will still have to go to the Second Life site, log in to that site, download the new version, and then install it myself while temporarily upgraded to a computer administrator account.  The new Update Available notice has saved me the need to hunt down the download on my own.  That is a nice improvement.

Say Stranger, New in These Parts?

SecondLife-2007-10-20-OneCarePopUp I wanted to demonstrate how painful it is to go through a 33-megabyte download only to be told the install can't be done.  I switched from Computer administrator back to Limited account to demonstrate what happens.  I haven't taken this path since March 2006, the first time I discovered that Second Life does not have a non-administrative way of updating itself.  (This was no surprise, but I tried it to be certain.)  [This is from a photograph of my screen, slightly defocused to avoid interference patterns in the image.  The OneCare pop-up refuses to be screen-captured with the software that I use.  The yellow-alert condition there is because I need to run backups.  I have to be elevated to administrator to do backups and also to have the correct account data be backed-up too.]

When I opened the Second Life client and got to the download button again, the download didn't even start: Second Life tripped over my firewall.  That's interesting because my firewall is already conditioned to allow Second Life access to the Internet.  What's even more interesting is that whatever program is being used to install the dowSL-2007-10-20-1639-Firewallnload, it is one I (and OneCare) have never heard of.   I can go no further without checking with OneCare.  

I could take Second Life's advice and install using the download that I already have.  I certainly don't want the auto-update to succeed.  I do want to understand why it failed in this particular way.

I switch users and quickly log into a computer administrator account to consult with OneCare on the matter.  I do so, and OneCare's notification comes up immediately.

Uh, I Don't Think So

SL-2007-10-20-1644-Firewall As a computer administrator, I now have something to say about the program that was blocked.

Now, what program is that exactly?

Let's see, it is not signed code (that's what Publisher Unknown means).  There is no version or company identification.

The name of the program is a made-up tmp.exe with a random name.

In fact, the program is in my user-account Temp directory.  None of this is reassuring in any way.

My intention is to block this program forever, assuming that it ever runs again, but I'm curious to know if it will still attempt running.  [Next I have second thoughts and block it permanently on the second notice which was apparently already stacked up.]

There are two things going on here.  First, I am willing to believe that the Second Life client creates a copy of a down-loader in the Temp directory so that the install can happen atop the Second Life location without weirdness.  I am almost willing to give that some credence. 

Secondly, I am satisfied that the update would attempt to run automatically.  There's no danger that the down-loader can accomplish anything, however.  Writing to C:\Program Files\Second Life\ on my machine can only be done under an Administrator account.  I'm not operating in one of those, which is what I had started out to demonstrate until the firewall intervention occurred.

Reviewing the Situation

So, the easiest way to install all of those interminable Second Life updates is to be running on-line as administrator without a firewall. 

Cool huh? 

Clearly, the Second Life folk know that and they design that as the inviting case.  Look, they suspect that their connection attempt with this weird little program is blocked by a firewall. 

That's what I mean by the slithery tug-of-war.  I also hate it when applications check automatically for updates and then nag me about it.  Being denied access to the service until I install one of the interminable updates is worse.  Of course, the fact that I put up with this in order to enjoy Second Life eye candy and all the in-world denizens just shows how tempted I am.  Even I, a devout Standard User.

Apparent convenience trumps security and safety.  Almost all of the time.  And we mostly put up with it.

Installing the Usual Way

Today's experience has me thinking that I would be better off not playing in this game with the Second Life developers, regardless of any seductive appeal of their application.   But let's see how well I do when I employ my safe practice to install the update and finally return in-world. 

SL-2007-10-20-1645-Install  This is the file I downloaded earlier.  The message applies to that file.

See how complacent I am?  The code is not signed, and I don't do anything about refusing to accept unsigned software, especially when downloaded from the Internet (although probably under safe conditions). 

As you see, I am going to go ahead and install it.  I am now running with my account switched from Limited User to Computer Administrator.  I am not on-line, although I am connected. 

My intention is to install and run the application once while I am administrator so I can condition my firewall for the new version of the application.

Second Life Installer Firewall Hit (click for larger image)  Oh yes, installers have a habit of wanting to access the Internet too.  I often experience requests to condition my firewall before a Setup program gets very far.  That is also true here.  No surprise.  We haven't even started up the program and already there is Internet activity.

On continuing, the revised Second Life version starts up for the first time.

SL-2007-10-20-1746-Terms (click for larger image)  Oh, What's this?  We get all of this way and now I am given an absolute click-through requirement to accept a lengthy Terms of Service agreement.  That seems to be one of the improvements of this release.

I couldn't even get it onto my clip board for closer review later.  You can see I selected the text, but I couldn't get it where I could preserve it.  And it is long.  And mind-numbing.  The part that I have scrolled to is section 5.3 where I am informed that everything that I have done on Second Life, any Linden Dollars that I happen to have, and any credit for any purchases can disappear at any time for any reason whatsoever.

Well, I'm certainly happy that they require me to promise to have read this terrible document before I am allowed to continue on and connect into Second Life, the world. 

After my exploration was over, I went to the Second Life site and did manage to find a web page with the Terms of Service at  http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php.  I can't testify that it is the same document, but Section 5.3 is definitely the same and I did download a copy for my reference.

About now, I am wondering why I am continuing to put up with this.  I wander around in-world for a while, mainly pruning my list of landmarks of places that seem to be dormant or not that interesting.

The Prize in the Bottom of the Box

SL-2007-10-20-1747 Another Firewall Hit (click for larger image) OneCare let me know about a second program not long after I allowed the main Second Life program to have access to the Internet.  For some reason, the extensions to allow direct voice audio in Second Life are provided or installed using a second program, one that my firewall wants me to consider whether or not to allow. 

I opt for the program to run.  I didn't put on my headset and microphone nor did I find any avatar to talk to this way. 

I am grateful for this little addition though.  When I closed Second Life, I experienced a frightful system slow-down.  Everything turned to molasses.  Windows were blank and took forever to paint, that sort of thing.   At the end of that prolonged seizure, I received a wonderful message.  

SL-2007-10-20-1812 VC++ Runtime (click for larger image)I have been waiting almost two years for one of these.  It is worth a completely separate blog post by Professor von Clueless, but here is the message.  I wanted a real-world example of one of these and now I have it.  Thanks, Second Life developers. 

[Dear developer: This condition may be a consequence of the temporary blockage that OneCare instituted during the first-time execution of the new version.  If the program never noticed that the block had been removed, or was somehow derailed by the block, this Runtime Error might be a consequence.  I did run Second Life one more time after restoring to a limited account and there were no further errors and no unusual slow-down conditions.]


A little more background:  Even though my main development system runs Windows XP (Media Center Edition 2005), I operate in a Limited User Account (LUA) whenever possible.  I have an administrator account that I use only when I need to perform a purely-administrative function (including allow Microsoft Update to install goodies it has ready for me).  I'm effectively implementing the equivalent of User Account Control by manual procedure.  This is in the spirit that Dennis Wallentin expresses in his 2007-10-20 blog post on being UAC Compliant:

"UAC stands for User Account Control and is the new technology in Windows Vista to provide users with different level of administrative rights and privileges. UAC main purpose is to support a more secured environment then what Windows XP offers.

"Microsoft has a good white paper that covers UAC in detail and therefore I have no intention to cover it here:

"Most developers I know have intentionally disabled it because they found it to be rather annoying, time consuming and too restrictive.  [orcmid: my italics]

"Although I can agree with these opinions I try to have it enable as much as possible simple because that will be the most likely scenario for many of my customers. In addition, from a general point of view I support it because by default all users (except Guests) are logged on to Windows Vista as standard users and get extended rights only when needed.

When I need to do something different, such as install new software or update downloads from other sources, I will carry out the download, parking the file in a safe place that I can use for any future re-install.  Before installing, I switch my normal account to being a computer administrator and I install under that account.  This is to ensure that the software installs properly for operation under that account and not all accounts, if possible.

Second Life, as do many other applications, installs for all accounts on the machine, including all Administrator-group accounts.  When I detect this, I remove all icons, shortcuts and start menu occurrences from "all users," confining them to my normal account instead. Automatically installing for use from all accounts on the machine is another action that punishes my efforts to be a Standard User and only allow pure administrative activity in my separate administrator account.

[update 2007-10-21T16:59-0700: I provided a link to the detailed post about Visual C++ Library runtime error messages and also cleanup up some rough edges in the text of this post.]

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2007-10-08

 

OpenOffice.org: Another Hot Tip!

[update 2008-10-13 The installer bug observed here is not specific to OpenOffice.org, it seems to be specific to installers.  I have not examined this enough to see which installers do this, but I have seen the identical problem with installers of other software.  In all cases, the software will correctly place a single-user install under the user who is running the install.  But the dialog identifies the wrong user, apparently always showing the User ID for the first user created on the machine.]

When I installed OO.o 2.3 on my sister's computer, I was disturbed that it kept offering her admin account as the single account it would install under, even though we were not running the installer under that account. 

At my XP SP2 system at home, I installed the same version and I did not have that problem.  This time it did name the account I was using, even though it was not my normal administrator account.  It was, however, the first account that had been set up on my machine, as was the case for admin on my sister's machine.

So I tried again, this time on my Tablet PC and Windows Vista Ultimate.  For variety, I also used the OO.o 2.1 Novell edition, installing from CD-ROM.  There, I ran into exactly the same problem.  I was presented with this dilemma:

Installer shows incorrect User ID for "me"

Once again, me is not admin.  I am doing this install from my standard-user account (SUA).  But just to see what would happen, I took that option anyhow.  Guess what: This dialog is lying.  It will install only for the account being used.  The bug is that it doesn't present the correct account name.  The behavior is actually correct.

So if you are attempting to install OpenOffice.org 2.3 (or the 2.1 Novell Edition) only under the account you are running in, you can ignore the incorrect account name.  It will do the right thing. 


The next time I assist my sister in adding an OpenOffice.org update, I'll be sure to uninstall the current version and then install the new one only for her standard account.

Now, you might wonder what the fuss is all about.  If you are as obsessive as I am about computer security, you might want to omit all but pure administrative applications from the administrative account, and only ever use the administrative account for essential administrative operations.

This means that to have ordinary applications install properly in the ordinary accounts where it is safest to run them I elevate my standard-user account to an administrator account just long enough to install the software and run it the first time under the standard account.  This gyration is required because many programs expect to perform final administrative setup operations on the first execution.  Setting of registry entries and creation of application data, plus other details, may be specific to the account that is used for the install.  I will usually discover the firewall conditioning that is required upon the first execution.  From then on, I can use the program as a standard user.

When certain programs (e.g., Second Life) install for all users with no other option, I will remove the shortcuts and links placed on the "All Users" desktop and startup menu and place them in the profile information of my standard user account.  This is just a little preventative against my foolishly using recreational software from my administrative account.

[update 2008-10-13 Moved this post from Orcmid’s Live Hideout to Orcmid’s Lair for better preservation and tie-in to other confirmable-experience and cybergeek topics.]

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2007-09-24

 

OpenOffice.org: Installation Hot Tip!

[2008-10-08 Another preservation of an Orcmid’s Live Hideout post.  This is to have the collection under one blog roof and also along the proper timeline.  These posts will not show up the recent-posts lists of surrounding posts, but they can be found in the category archives.  My blog archive list has run out of gas and I need to find a way to bring it forward.]

Yesterday, I gave my tale of woes around installation of OpenOffice.org 2.3 on my sister's (and then my) computer.  Here's the key take-away as a Hot Tip!

  1. OO.o 2.3 Installation Folder Selection (click for larger image) When you are installing OpenOffice.org 2.3, the current latest-and-greatest from the download site, you will eventually run into this dialog.
      
  2. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  YOU NEED TO PUT THE INSTALLATION FILES IN A SAFE PLACE.  NOT YOUR DESKTOP.  The  installation of OO.o is going to remember where the installation files have been placed.  OO.o software depends on being able to find the Installation Files in the future if you ever want to uninstall or upgrade your OO.o software.  Be warned!
        
  3. Use the Browse ... button to find a safe place to keep the installation files.  Do not accept the default as I am doing in this screen shot.
      
    I recommend a location that is backed-up and restored and is otherwise in an out-of-the-way place. 
      
    I keep all of my downloaded software in folders of a special directory, so that I can reinstall if I ever need to rebuild my system.  I changed the destination folder path to be under that directory, in an "\OpenOffice.org 2.3 Installation Files" subdirectory. 
      
  4. It is a great waste of space to keep all of this around when apparently it is just the .msi file that will be needed in the future.  But to be safe, I recommend keeping all of the files.  You might want to delete or archive the downloaded .exe file that the Installation Files are unpacked from, though.
       
  5. Update 2007-09-27-12:22: Another option is to back up both the downloaded .exe file and the folder of OpenOffice.org 2.3 Installation Files onto a CD-ROM or a backup service.  When the Installation Files are needed again, it should be sufficient to access them directly on the backup CD or remote folder.
      
  6. An Alternative: [added 2007-09-27]:  The OpenOffice.org 2.1.0-12b Novell Edition downloads as a CD-ROM .iso image.  You can burn this to a CD-ROM and install it whenever and wherever you like.  The setup.exe of this version does not require your cooperation in creating and preserving an Installation Files folder.  I don't know whether uninstall requires the CD-ROM, so hold onto it, but I somehow doubt that will be a problem.
    • I don't know if this variant of OpenOffice.org 2.1 is subject to the TIFF exploit that applies to the Sun-sponsored OpenOffice.org 2.1 release and that does not apply to their release 2.3.  I am willing to risk that because I am not expecting to be receiving and ODF documents containing TIFF images.  Also, I don't use office productivity software in anything but limited-user accounts.
    • My interest in the Novell version is the greater attention to Microsoft interoperability and the availability of an early OOXML-conversion plug-in.  I also have an interest in products that support ODMA.  Novell is adding that to their Windows edition with initial presence in the OOo 2.1 Novell edition.

[listening to: Pink Floyd, The Wall (1994 Digital Remaster) from Amazon MP3 in Windows Media Player 11 on Windows XP]

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2007-09-23

 

Open Office Not Ready for ‘Just Plain Folks’

[2008-10-08 This is another Orcmid’s Live Space post scraped for placement here so that I have a preservation of it.  I have put it back in the Lair at the same date (I hope) because it involves an old version of OpenOffice.org and I have not confirmed whether later versions have the same problem.   The lesson is important to retain in case I need to bring it up again.]

Streaks watches me perform installs and transfers into the new machine (click for larger image) The Qwest tech came out and installed my sister's broadband (and changed her standard user account to an administrator account, but more about that another time).  On my next visit I went over all of the Qwest-branded MSN and Windows Live software to get it to work for her (more about that and about Vista inanities another time too).

Her OpenOffice.org Sweet Spot

I did not include any Microsoft Office software when I ordered the computer.  It came with Microsoft Works by default.    My sister, a retired elementary-school teacher has an occasional need to interchange Word documents and, on rare occasion, documents of other Microsoft Office applications.   Even though Works no longer includes a version of Microsoft Word, she didn't find it worth increasing the cost of her system from its under-$600 sale price just to have a version of Microsoft Office.  I suggested that we set her up with OpenOffice.org for her routine use and as a way to open and create the simple Microsoft Word and other documents that she encounters in her volunteer work.  Now that her system is up and running on broadband, it was time to install OpenOffice.org.

Uneasy Moments Installing OpenOffice.org 2.3

I took her through the download (the site is not novice-friendly and she was thrown by the donation appeal) of the recently-released OpenOffice.org 2.3 version ( a reminder to me that people come to sites for a particular purpose and distractions are unsettling, especially when they are not sure what is going on).  It was also distracting to me that the download page says the current stable release is 2.2.1 when I know the download is 2.3 

The download went well over her 7.5 Mbps DSL connection.  We created an Internet Downloads folder in her Documents, and added an Open Office sub-folder to store the download and anything else in.  It was my sister who asked for the folder organization and named the folders that would help her know what's what.  I don't use my documents folder for this, but I realized this would work for her: We already set up Windows Live OneCare to save her entire Documents folder on backups, so the downloads of installs would be backed up too.  That's handy.

There were a number of odd things in the installation process.  But we worked our way through it.  I think she might have balked if I hadn't been piloting.  She actually reads through EULAs (hey, she's my sister), and the LGPL 2.1 is weird enough for a normal user that she might have been distracted by it.  The LGPL 2.1 is not really addressed to users that don't develop software and have no particular understanding or concern for the manifesto that occupies most of the text.  (She also knows how to create strong passwords and is very careful visiting web sites and installing software.  I am very impressed with what my sister has taught herself about safe computing.) 

When the option to make Open Office applications be the defaults for .doc, .xls, and .ppt files, we checked those boxes because this is going to be her only means to operate with those documents. 

Then we stumbled on a bug where OpenOffice.org would not install for just the account we were doing the install under.  It kept saying that the "this account only" case was for the admin account and not the personal account we were logged into and performing the install under.  Not wanting to have it installed only under admin, we finally had to allow it to install for all users to be sure she could use it from her ordinary account.  That is not what either of us wanted.

The installation completed successfully. The first-run of OpenOffice.org Writer (with even the names of these applications, with the .org extension, being too geeky for plain folks) forced her through a second acceptance of the EULA (just the LGPL 2.1 license and disclaimer) that requires you to scroll to the end before the "accept" button is activated.  If you didn't know that, you'd be stuck right here.  Anyhow we did that, and went to the OpenOffice.org site to "register."  At the invitation to complete a survey, she closed the browser instead.  All right, sis!

What's This Crap Here?

We did some display-setting adjustments and admired our handiwork on the wide-format LCD display of the new system.  I suddenly noticed that there was a folder on the desktop left over from the install.  When the downloaded "OOo_2.3.0_Win32Intel_install_wJRE_en-US.exe" file announced that it was going to unpack the installation setup into a folder, I failed to notice that the default choice for the setup files was on the desktop.  So we had a stray "OpenOffice.org 2.3 Installation Files" folder cluttering up her desktop.   [If Dare Obasanjo reads this on return from his honeymoon, he'll know exactly the trouble I'm about to get my sister into.]

Oh Professor, Don't Touch That Button! ... Oops

Having one geek gene (but not two), I saw no reason to keep 109 MB of installation files lying around, especially on the desktop.  We are already keeping the original 120 MB download file so that can be used to re-install OO.o 2.3 if necessary, right?

I deleted the folder from the desktop.  Nothing bad happened (yet).

Satisfied, we went shopping, had dinner, and I returned home.

Emergency, Emergency, Please Read My Letter!

Two days later, after my usual weekly tune-up process, I decided to update my OpenOffice.org 2.0 configuration to OpenOffice.org 2.3 also.  I wanted to see if the same glitches happened for me, and confirm that the default for Save and Save As ... of documents opened from Microsoft Office formats was to store back in Microsoft Office format.  It is, so my sister won't have to do anything special to round-trip Microsoft Office Documents that land on her computer.

But I also found out that those folders of Installation files are needed (well, about 6MB of them are needed) if you ever want to remove or update a version of Open Office.  I didn't save mine and my OpenOffice.org 2.3 would not install.  Before I managed to get that to work, I had even crippled the existing OpenOffice.org 2.0 software and I could neither remove it, upgrade it, or use it.  Three hours later I stumbled back from my near-death experience with a correct upgrade.  It was a close call.  It is also a very stupid installation procedure.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

So, here is how my sister gets out of having any future update or removal of OpenOffice.org 2.3 crippled:

From: Dennis E. Hamilton
To: Sis
Subject: OOPS!  Need to do something

I was a little uncomfortable with silly things that happened when installing Open Office 2.3 on your machine.

So I installed it on mine (I had an older version already installed) and discovered some difficulties.

Here is what you need to do.

1. While in your regular account, open your recycle bin.  Just double-click on the icon on your screen.

2. You are looking for a folder with name "OpenOffice.org 2.3 Installation Files"

3. When you find that folder in the recycle bin, don't look inside.  Just right click on it.

4. On the little menu that comes down, click "Restore".

5. The folder should then appear on your desktop.  That is where I deleted it on Thursday.

6. You need to keep this folder. 

    -    -    -    -    -    -    -   

It is just stupid that they put it on your desktop and it is also stupid that you need to keep the whole thing around.  However, we will do the easy thing and hold onto it.  Otherwise, you may have trouble updating OpenOffice.org or even removing it in the future.  (I learned this the hard way on Saturday.)

Here is my recommendation for putting it away out of sight in a place where it can be found later.

7. Open your "Documents" folder.

8. In that folder, open the "Internet Downloads" folder that we created.

9. Open the "Open Office" folder that we created there (I don't remember its exact name).

10. Shrink or adjust the window that you have open so you can also see the "OpenOffice.org 2.3 Installation Files" folder icon on your desktop.

11. Drag the folder icon into the opened-up "Open Office" folder.  (Dragging is by putting the mouse over the icon and holding down the left-mouse button.  While still holding down the button, move the mouse cursor over to the document area of the "Open Office" folder above an open space.  Release the mouse button.  In a moment, the folder should show up inside that folder and no longer be on your desktop.

Problem solved.  You will need to remember this the next time you install an update for Open Office.  We'll worry about that then.

12. If your recycle bin has been cleaned up and the Installation Files folder is no longer there, something more elaborate has to be done.  I'll want to come over to work through that with you.  For now, I'm hoping that you find it in your recycle bin and that the above procedure makes sense and works for you.

If you are uncomfortable doing this, I can talk you through it on the phone and confirm what you are seeing at each step before going onto the next. 

Love,

- Dennis

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Construction Structure (Hard Hat Area) You are navigating Orcmid's Lair.

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