Why Should You Use Firefox?

Bob Rankin over at the Internet Tourbus (a subscription I’ve maintained for nearly as long as I’ve been on the ‘net. 1997, I think) is asking for feedback on whether or not Firefox is ready for prime time, and why should you use it.

I’ve had quite a bit to say on the subject of Firefox over the years. A good portion of it on this blog, but I apparently have neglected to get into my main reason for using it, security.

It’s hard to conceive of any program less safe to surf the Internet with than Internet Explorer. I have used Firefox / Thunderbird for more than three years. I wouldn’t use MicroSoft software to connect to anything for any reason. I only risk the operating system because I need software that isn’t available on other platforms.

The security holes that MicroSoft’s propaganda arm (known as the tech reporting industry) keep harping on concerning Firefox have been patched. If you download the current version you shouldn’t have any trouble; not to mention the benefits of built-in pop-up blocking and spam filtering.

[MS is running scared from the threat that Open Source (of which Mozilla is part) presents to their business model. With good reason. I’ve also been using Open Office almost exclusively for the last couple of years. It’s every bit as good as MS office is, and it’s getting better. Linux and KDE are going great guns. I dual boot a Linux/Windows box currently; most of the programs I use can be installed in both operating systems. When I get a decent Linux CAD program I’m giving up Windows]

As someone who remembers working with Wordperfect and Lotus 123 on 386 DOS boxes (not to mention the playing around with the original MacIntosh) I think I can say I speak from experience. Not to mention the fact that I’m married to the #1 PC repair geek in all of Austin, and so can speak from experience on the repair side of the business, concerning the far greater risk involved in running Internet Explorer rather than Firefox. We routinely install Firefox on clients systems; and when I’m doing the work as a favor for a friend (in other words, for free) I do myself a favor and delete the icons (when uninstalling isn’t possible or feasible) for MicroShaft programs which are a liability, so that they don’t re-infect themselves and waste more of my time.

Why do I say this? Because half of the systems that come back for more work, when I question their owners, are re-infected because the owners went back to using Internet Exploder (the other half are because they don’t update their virus/malware scanners properly) I have never yet gotten a system back that was infected through the use of Mozilla software. These are just the facts.

The other reason to use Firefox is it’s ease of use and customizability…

[Yes, I know that Internet Exploder 7.0 does most of the same stuff Firefox does. Is it a coincidence that Firefox code is available for anyone to see, and IE’s code is not? You decide]

…If I want a toolbar for a particular purpose, it’s generally available at the addons site. There are far more addons than any one person will use, and the extents to which the browser can be modified are quite impressive. Right click customizations for searches (I use it in Thunderbird as well) as well as tool bars for many different popular destinations on the web. The most useful one, in my opinion, is ForcastFox; which is weather, right in the frame of the browser. Too cool.

The extensions work for all versions of Mozilla (including Netscape based on it) although you may have to dig back into the archives to get extensions for older versions…

When I read Rankin’s call for feedback, my first response was “What, you aren’t using it?” My second response was “Why wouldn’t you use it?” Download it today, and give it a try.

Cheapskate Technical Woes

So I’m helping The Wife tonight. She’s trying to get some customer’s computer systems out the door. One of the systems is being extra problematic; an archaic old system that is older than The Son (he’s 8) running Windows 98 (not even SE) IE 4.0; and, no lie, a flat panel monitor.

[It’s like buying a new wagon for the dead mule to pull. But what do I know?]

Microsoft is no help, you can’t even get on their site with IE 4.0 these days.

Firefox says it will run, but after bashing our heads against the error “oleaut32.dll:77” I ran a Google search and came up with this:

http://www.faqts.com/knowledge_base/view.phtml/aid/15670

The problem indicates you do not have the complete OLEAUT32.dll file –
either you’re running Windows 95 or an older version of Windows98. Go
to Microsoft’s website and download the DCOM upgrade package depending
on the version of Windows you have got (alternatively just search for
DCOM on Google or something) – the current link that I have is
http://www.microsoft.com/com/resources/downloads.asp

Once you have run this update, this will update your OLEAUT32 dll for
you, and php should run without the error.

Having nothing else to loose, we installed the Dcom update and were finally sucessfull running Firefox 2.0; which allowed us to access the Windows update site and install the remainder of the Win98 patches, including IE 6. Problem solved, out the door it goes.

Never mind the system is worth less than the time we spent fixing it. Ah, the sweet taste of victory.

An Explanation For the Link at Right

ZD Net Security: Second third-party fix out for Windows bug

Microsoft, with their legions of programmers, have to rely on uncompensated third parties to write patches for their worthless software. From the story:

The group, calling itself the Zeroday Emergency Response Team, or ZERT, created the patch so Windows users can protect their PCs while Microsoft works on an official update. People have a choice of third-party fixes. Security company Determina on Friday released a patch it authored for the same flaw.

Personally, I find this completely unacceptable. I also find it to be the norm when dealing with large corporations and their worthless products.

Microsoft plans to issue a fix for the problem on Oct. 10, its regularly scheduled patch day; pretty much meets the description of “a day late and a dollar short”.

Download Firefox with the button at the right top of the page…

DRM: Moderate?

I’m apparently a moderate on the subject. According to this Information Week story:

Calling themselves freedom fighters, members of the Free Software Foundation are engaging in a campaign against Digital Rights Management, which they emphatically refer to as Digital Restrictions Management.

Everytime I hear the phrase freedom fighter, I think of the old Robin Williams joke “What do you call people who fight fires? Fire fighters. So, what does a freedom fighter do?” Aside from that, I wish them luck.

DRM is the most Ill-conceived technological nightmare to come along in a long time. I’d like nothing more than to see the entire concept flushed along with the rest of the waste…

DRM: Who’s Rights are They?

The announcement from Universal last week brought up the subject of DRM, a sore spot for me and most of the people who listen to online music. But you would think that it had been smooth sailing for all these online years, if you believed the arguments that I’ve seen over the last week.

Napster and it’s overseas descendants aren’t and never were a problem, MP3.com wasn’t virtually hounded off the ‘net for daring to exercise fair use, DRM is a completely logical exercise of the rights holders over copyrighted material, which presents no problems to the end users who purchase the material.

…And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you.

First off, let’s get a few definitions straight. The term piracy, as it is used in software circles these days, is a completely unworkable definition. Piracy involves profiting through theft, not copying files. While it can be argued that the end user ‘profits’ from copying files that he has not paid for, that sort of profiting is in a whole different league from the person who sells CDs and DVDs (and even the computer files themselves) that he’s made without license from the copyright holder. However, there is no distinction between the two in the eyes of Microsoft (and the other corporate software vendors) the RIAA and the MPAA; a completely ridiculous proposition on the face of it.

Then there is the term contract, in which the software industry claims their EULAs and online contracts are no different than a printed, signed and witnessed contract of a truly legal nature. However, if you trotted out the verbiage contained in the average EULA, I doubt you’d find many people willing to commit to the agreement, since the agreement invariably holds the software company innocent of any possible wrongdoing, while setting up a legal fence around the user so as to tightly constrain what uses the material can be put to.

Here is a piece of timely advice; never sign a contract that has been written by an attorney other than one in your employ without first having an attorney who is in your employ look it over. Contracts are always negotiable by both parties if they are to be considered valid. When you sign your name to a contract you agree to the terms, thereby waiving your right to negotiate terms in advance. A EULA does not allow for physical signatures and so consequently are not really contracts at all.

Additionally, any contract that you have to accept without negotiation is a contract that no one should hold themselves constrained by, since they had no say in what the exact contents of the contract would be.

Now when it comes to EULA’s I have to ask; Do you support the dishonest business practice of attempting to hold a customer to a contract that isn’t presented until after the transaction has taken place, or are you an honest businessman who presents the contract before any other business occurs? Anyone who thinks that it is commonplace and acceptable to withhold conditions of a sale until after the transaction has taken place is by definition a dishonest businessman. Honesty requires full disclosure before the sale. Restrictions that are revealed after the sale is finalized are not enforceable, as they are generally held to be outside of current law, and are a violation of the standard of full disclosure. In a nutshell, it is a dishonest and/or fraudulent business practice to withhold this type of information.

With the above as the generally understood standard of doing business, that contracts which I have not explicitly agreed to in writing are not binding, and that contracts that are not revealed until after the sale is finalized are not enforceable…

…Should I be faulted for holding the opinion that “All sales are final. The files are mine. Anything they have to say about my treatment of my files after that point is a claim. There is no agreement, other than cash for music files. There was no other legal contract presented.” and stripping the DRM from files that I had paid for and wished to listen to on a device of my choosing?

Apparently I am to be faulted. At least in the eyes of the people who plan on making money off of the legally clueless out there.

Fair use allows the user to make copies of copyrighted material for his own use. My own use requires that I strip the DRM from music files sold on most popular websites. If the websites attempted to enforce the contract terms, they would only alienate their customer base; ergo, it is nothing more than a paper tiger, never to be enforced except to remove individual user accounts.

…And if I can’t actually make the files usable, I don’t know why I would need an account in the first place.

The last definition that needs clarification: DRM, Digital Rights Management. The corporations that own the content have rights (which DRM manages) but you the user don’t. You have privileges that they can take away if they please. Welcome to the digital millennium.

My experience with the difficulty of using iTunes (and other DRM restricted services) has convinced me that DRM regimes are soon to be a thing of the past. It’s also convinced me that I will spend money on sites that don’t add DRM to the files. Sites like Sound Click for example. I don’t need to go to full out piracy sites (I find real pirates and their practices quite distasteful) I have no problem going down to the used CD store and getting the music I’m looking for at less than the dollar a song most sites are charging. I might download songs from Universal’s announced site, but only if I can remove the DRM.

Which brings us to the crux of the problem. The only way to make DRM enforceable is to appoint an ultimate Sys-Admin, a company that has the power to open back doors on all the computers currently in operation, and snoop through the files to make sure that no one is using files that they haven’t paid for. A job that Microsoft desperately wants to be given, as they quite eagerly pointed out when they announced the rollout of Longhorn (now Vista) two or three years ago. A big brother situation that I shudder to contemplate.

Otherwise DRM is an unworkable solution in the long term. As more content becomes available on the ‘net, more and more of it will appear shortly after it’s initial release with DRM, sans it’s protective wrapper, ready to be copied by anybody who doesn’t have an aversion to dealing with pirates.

Might as well just come up with a different solution now, save us all the hassle.

Open Source: Without Profit?

One of the arguments I’ve had with critics of Open Source software, is that they (the open source programmers) want people to use a product for which there is no profit, i.e. they are given away for free.

That’s funny. I’ve profited many times over from a lack of lost down time due to using Firefox to access the Internet and avoiding all that IE targeted malware. I’ve also profited from using Thunderbird and avoiding all those scriptkiddie re-mailers that seem to plague Outlook Express.

[BTW, Microsoft gives IE and Express away ‘free’ too]

I’ve also profited from the use of www.openoffice.org instead of MicroSoft office. I’ve saved all those profits I would have handed over to brother Bill, and given them to myself. Same for the OS’s that I test. The average Linux distro will run you 80 bucks if you want printed materials to go with the software. I’ve paid it more than once, as well as downloading them for free from the internet.

‘If’ I had a CAD package that suited my needs in Linux, I wouldn’t even look back.

Most people too narrowly define the word ‘profit’.

Image viewing and editing

One of the tech sites I frequent was asking “what editing software do you use?” I don’t have a video editor that I like (I’ve just gotten into fabricating my own PVR and I haven’t settled on an operating system yet, much less a video editor I like) but I definitely have an opinion on image viewing and editing…

Image Viewing: IRFanView

I hated this program when I first started using it. The sys-admin at one of my previous employers had loaded it as the default image viewer, and I could not understand why. After several years of fiddling with other programs, I can now tell you why.

Quick loading, and I mean FAST. Photoshop, JASC, etc, all take 10 minutes to load (or it feels like it) with IRfanview you double click and your image is right there.

Editing tools are very basic (which is why I hated the program initially) but they are more than sufficient to handle the average users requirements. Image scaling, lightening and darkening of the image, etc. If you want to major editing, get program made for editing. If you want to view images and do basic manipulation, IRfanview is the program for you.

Image editing: Gimp it

When I need to manipulate files, I pull out ‘The Gimp‘.

Why would you pay for Photoshop when this program does everything Photoshop does, and does it for less? Someone else posted this on the same thread, which sums it up for me:

I think that when you struggle for software in a particular area you should always start with free unless you are compelled. That way you can learn the technologies. the techniques, the strengths and the weaknesses. If the free software does what you need, then great! If it doesn’t, you’ll be able to look at the commercial offerings with specific questions and specific needs. This improves your chances of finding what you need on the first try without buying a lot of unnecessary software.

When I finally start taking the PVR seriously I might have a video editor to recommend. And I’ll be doing that right after I finish remodeling the house.

Recommending Firefox

I knew I was recommending it for a reason.

It’s just nice to have it backed up with statistics. Here’s a quote:

“Internet Explorer users are 21 times as likely to pick up spyware than Firefox users

I’ve been using Firefox for several years now, and installing it on systems that my boss (yeah, you, sweetheart) assigns me to fix, as well as recommending it to anyone who asks. All based on my own impression of it’s security, and nothing else.

…Until now.

Linux Distro Chooser Quiz

Reading back issues of Linux Pipeline tonight, came across a link for the “Linux Distro Chooser Quiz“. It suggested I use Suse; which is kind of funny, since I’m only looking at other distros because I’m tired of fixing the missing pieces in Suse.

I want to be able to play DVD’s on a linux system without having to stand on my head tracking down different parts of a software program. I just want to install a DVD player that actually plays DVDs; and I haven’t found one that I don’t have to assemble each time I upgrade the OS software. Suse comes with DVD disabled, as well as a lot of other bits and pieces missing and broken.

…and if I find it frustrating, as a confirmed software geek (if not a bonafide programmer) I can only imagine what the average user thinks.

Sony: What do they do for the pirates?

Have you heard the wonderful things that Sony is doing for people who legitimately purchase music on disk these days? Seems they install software on your system that hijacks your hardware and attempts to prevent you from copying their disks. Unfortunately it opens the system up for other malicious uses, not to mention voiding ‘fair use’ for all intents and purposes.

Seems to me you wouldn’t want to punish the people who pay you money for your product, something I’ve meticulously done when music that I like is available on disk. You know, plan A: follow the law, reward the creative types with the money they deserve for creating the music we enjoy; doing the “right thing”. After Sony’s little fiasco, I think I’ll go with plan “B” from now on.

As someone who does computer maintenance as a sideline, I’ve seen what it takes to clean up a hijacked system like they are describing. It’s called “Fdisk, format, reinstall”. If that’s what you get for following the rules and purchasing music from the RIAA supporting music vendors, then I think I’m a rule breaker from here on out.

This is what you get for letting the corporations dictate policy for you, as the link under the RIAA above points out. Snooping bastards poking around in all the nooks and crannies on your system just to make sure you don’t have a secret copy of Bob Dylan’s version of “Watchtower” (or heaven forbid anything by Metallica) out there that you didn’t actually pay for.

Do any of us need that?

I’m thinking of digging out all my old vinyl and re-mastering the content to MP3 just for the hell of it now. All those old Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind and Fire albums in fresh new MP3 format. That’ll show ’em, right?


The Sony BMG rootkit scandal is finally winding down.

The settlement that Sony has agreed to includes a payment of 150 dollars to anyone who can show damage due to the rootkit, as well as replacement of any CD’s which contain the rootkit. I hope the rest of the media companies are paying attention to this.

Yahoo story, ARS story