April 20, 2004
free xhtml course online
the long article is taking a little longer to finalise than I had originally hoped, but in the meantime, here is a little something for free to tide you over.
My company, Westciv, on top of developing Style Master and Layout Master also publishes some, if I do say so myself, pretty fine self paced courses for web developers.
Their focus is (and has been since 2000, no johnny come latelies us) web standards, accessibility, valid semantic code, the whole box and dice of getting it right.
The point? At any given time we run one of our courses for free over a few weeks.
We've just begun our html/xhtml course. So head on over to the course and give it a go.
If you know anyone who wants to get started in web development the right way, or who uses WYSIWYalmostG tools like FrontPage, etc, and wants to learn how to code, or anyone who plugs away in HTML, but isn't quite sure what they are really doing, then send them along.
April 09, 2004
An open letter to anyone tempted to use cracked software
Imagine you received the following email
you don't know me, and to protect me from the law I must remain anonymous, but I am offering something stolen that you want, and which would otherwise cost you a lot of money, for no cost at all! All you have to do is run the attached executable file, and it will make that stolen item available to you.
What's the betting that you wouldn't run the executable? What's the betting that only an imbecile would run the executable?
But you know what, there is a good chance that someone you know has done something very similar. I can guarantee that millions of people will do it today. Not "clueless newbies" who have only been using computers for a short while and haven't an idea what could go wrong. I'm talking about people with at least a modicum of, and often much more computer knowledge and experience.
I'll tell you who these people are in a short while, but let's for a moment think about the kind of risk someone who does this may be running.
This executable file might erase your hard disk. Completely and irretrievably. As a software developer I can't tell you how trivial it is to write such an application. Maybe an hour's work. For some it would take just a few minutes.
But it could actually do much worse things than that.
Any and all of the unencrypted information on your hard disk is most likely easily accessible to an application. At its leisure it might trowel though your files, gaining access to financial and other information, and send it off just about anywhere to be, well, misused. Better have a close look at those credit card statements. Check your online banking.
It might search for information on your hard disk which you may well not wish others to know about. Emails to a lover whom your husband or wife might not be too keen about, pornography, evidence of fraud - who knows? Access to any sensitive information makes you a pretty simple target for blackmail.
It could download or install criminally pornographic images on your system, and then notify say ASACAP that it believes the person connecting with your IP address has downloaded such images.
Or just to mess with you, it might send offensive emails from your email address to people in your address book. Imagine your mum opening up an email from you featuring a jaunty narrative of your amorous exploits with a donkey. Or a note to your boss listing the chief porn and gambling sites you enjoy. People do nasty things just for kicks.
It might install spambots, and other malicious applications which turn your computer into an open relay for spam. You know the deluge of weird emails we get every now and then, the viruses and worms like the recent slammer? That's a big part of how they propagate.
You may not have heard of DDOS or "distributed denial of service" attacks. These are the orchestrated use of computers running malicious software which their owner knows nothing about to deluge websites with requests to such an extent that these servers simply cannot serve the legitimate requests they receive. How does this software get onto these computers? Often people actively but unknowingly install it.
OK, OK, we all know that it is indescribably stupid to just run executables from anyone we don't trust. Only an ignoramus would do so. So what's my point?
As I said, millions of people do it every day. Not from an email attachment they receive, but worse, these morons actively seek out executable files from people who claim to be criminals, and who guard their anonymity with considerable skill and effort.
Who are these indescribably naive tossers? They are anyone who downloads a crack for legitimate software, a crack which enables them to use that software without paying for it.
Usually the crack comes in the form of a small executable posted on a crack or warez site which claims to "patch" a limited version of some software (say a demo version) and make it the equivalent of a full one. In most cases these cracks do what they say. But what else are they doing?
After all, these patches are simply executable files, running unprotected on a system. All of the unpleasant scenarios I outlined above are more than feasible on most systems.
People who use cracked software know that it is both illegal, and unethical. But that doesn't stop them. So I am not going to bore you or them with the arguments and reasons why they shouldn't do it.
But because I am such a good guy (I am you know) I'll give those people some valuable advice.
If you use cracked software you are running full executable files from people who zealously guard their anonymity because they are knowingly committing criminal acts. You are in effect giving these criminals complete control over all of the information on your hard disk, and operation of your computer. How unbelievably stupid is that?
You expose yourself to all of the scenarios I outlined above, and I'm sure many more I can't begin to think of.
And you contribute directly to the growing DDOS, virus and spam disasters that much diminish the value of the internet and the web for all of us, and about which you probably complain yourself.
p.s. To amuse those with consciences and brains I've decided to run a little competition.
Imagine that in the next few days, I'm going to release a psuedo-crack on the world. 50% of the time it will install a free version of Style Master, the other 50% of the time it will do something rather nasty.
I'd like to hear your ideas. What is the most heinous thing you can imagine an exe file doing? Post your ideas in the comments section over the next week and I'll bear them in mind. Most creative and amusingly cruel suggestion gets a free copy of Style Master (the real one).
For the record I can tell you that we software developers, in the few spare hours that we don't have to spend improving our security systems and fending off DDOS attacks, put a considerable amount of creative energy into thinking up horrible things we could do to those who want to steal our software. So you're going to have to reach deep to come up with something worse than us.
Anyhoo, our cracker friends might get a free copy of my very useful software, or their college supervisors may be emailed a photo of them performing unnatural acts on a goat. At best! It all depends on the malevolence of the blogosphere.
Do your worst.
Style Master Windows 3.5.2 upgrade released
We have just made available a minor upgrade to Style Master for Windows.
3.5.2 fixes a number of relatively minor problems, including a proliferation of temporary files, the Navbar and Breadcrumb wizards crashing on some unusual system setups, and some other minor issues with a couple of wizards.
You can grab the demo here
(you'll get another 30 days of demoing)
If you are a paid up customer you should have received an email with details about the full version. If you haven't, drop us a line and we will sort it out right away,
April 02, 2004
Where's Part III?
Now, I promised a part three to the whole licensing, activation, piracy issue, where I addressed the whole issue of piracy in detail.
Well, I'm still working on it, and it is going to be a pretty significant article. Hopefully it will be done in the next day or two.
So stay tuned.
A little discussion on product activation
In the meantime, tell me what you think about product activation systems, like the ones for Windows XP, Office and so on. Love them? Hate them? Don't like them but appreciate why they are there. Would they affect your purchasing decision? Why or why not?
meanwhile back at the coalface
In the meantime I've fixed a couple of irritating bugs in the Windows version, one to do with temp previewing files, and one that caused crashes in a couple of the wizards in some systems running 2000 or NT.
There should be a version early next week.
First my mobile phone died, now my Mac power supply failed, which makes one Mac and one PC power supply in about 6 weeks (I have a surge guard, so I don't know quite what is happening.)
As a small aside, at westciv we have had 8 Macs over the last 10 years or so, and with the exception of a powerbook that was a bit of a dud a few years ago (but which we got very inexpensively all things considered), and what used to be traditional pretty minor problems with connections and connectors, this is really the only significant problem we have ever had. When it comes to PCs, external devices, monitors (even from the top brands) we have had all kinds of problems.
By way of example, my current PC has had both its power supply and its video card replaced, which is twice as much trouble as we have had with 7 Macs over 10 or so years, and it is only 18 months old.
So while you pay something of a premium for Macs, but for that you get quality.
And can I just say, while I don't mind having Windows XP as my working OS, I love Mac OS X.
Anyway, not meaning to start any of the usual holy wars, just my tuppence worth