My editor asked if I could assess which browsers would leave the biggest dent in a home computer’s processor and memory, so I tested Chrome, Edge, and Firefox on my Windows laptop, then tested Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari slightly less systematically on my Mac desktop. (I wrote up my methodology for Patreon subscribers.)
A decade ago, I tried in vain to use my perch at the Post to stop Virginia from signing onto the “Free File” initiative championed by Intuit and other tax-prep firms that would require the state to scrap its good, free iFile tax-prep app. You can treat this piece for the Post’s Local Opinions section as my I-told-you-so revenge, showing how after 10 years the number of commonwealth taxpayers using the income-limited Free File option remains a small fraction of the number that had used iFile. (The Virginia Department of Taxation provided the numbers I requested almost immediately, so you’re also welcome to wonder why we haven’t seen them in stories before.) This story also notes that the non-income-limited Free Fillable Forms Web app Intuit provides to anybody amounts to the stone tablet of spreadsheets. This is what crony capitalism looks like.
I spend a lot of time venting about tech being a pain in the neck, but I will take a break from that to confirm that my annual Thanksgiving-weekend routine of providing technical support has gotten a lot easier over the last 10 years.
The single biggest upgrade has been the emergence of the iPad as something usable as the only computer in the house. It took a few years for Apple to make that happen–remember when you had to connect an iPad to a computer for its setup and backups?–but Web-first users can now enjoy a tablet with near zero risk of malware and that updates its apps automatically.
As a result, when I gave my mom’s iPad a checkup Wednesday afternoon, the worst I had to do was install the iOS 12.1 update.
That left me free to spend my tech-support time rearranging that tablet’s apps to keep the ones she uses most often on the first home screen.
Things have gotten easier on “real” computers too. Apple and Microsoft ship their desktop operating systems with sane security defaults and deliver security patches and other bug fixes automatically. The Mac and Windows app stores offer the same seamless updates for installed programs as iOS and Android’s. And while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox aren’t in those software shops, they update themselves just as easily.
But the openness of those operating systems makes it easier for people to get into trouble. For example, a few weeks ago, I had to talk a relative through resetting Chrome’s settings to get rid of an extension that was redirecting searches.
Other computing tasks remain a mess. On a desktop, laptop or tablet, clearing out storage to make room for an operating-system upgrade is as tedious as ever, and it doesn’t help when companies like Apple continue to sell laptops with 128-gigabyte SSDs. Password management continues to be a chore unless (duh) you install a password manager.
My most-distant business trip of the year is in the books, and I don’t even feel that tired after getting home Friday evening. Falling asleep in my own bed remains the single best cure for jet lag that I know. I’m traveling again this year coming week, but I’m only going about 3 percent as far–I’m in New York from Tuesday night through Friday afternoon for the CE Week show.
I started writing this from Newark International Airport, then finished it and filed it from the plane–worrying I’d lose the satellite link as the plane got farther and farther north. My thanks to United for not leaving me in the lurch… and for opening some upgrade space just in time for my longest flight this year.
Apple’s WWDC news about online privacy got my editor interested in a post comparing the virtues of the Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Edge, and Mozilla Firefox. If you still run Microsoft Internet Explorer, my advice in this column remains unchanged from prior years: stop.
I helped emcee this competition along with my former Yahoo colleague Dan Tynan and Last Gadget’s impresario-in-chief Robin Raskin. I introduced and briefly quizzed the people behind three finalists: iGlass AR, Action One, and the Wahe nuclear living room machine V. Alas, my joke about the name of that last device–a streaming-media player with gaming aspirations–becoming “nucular living room machine” in the American South was never going to make it through translation.
I wrote most of this from my hotel, then filed it from my flight home–except that when edits came back, we were still too far north to have a reliable signal. And since I had stupidly neglected to e-mail photos before taking off, I also had to deal with the horribly slow uploads of satellite Internet.
Verizon decided that having two different flavors of unlimited wasn’t enough, so it added three–while Sprint elected to mix up its own offerings with a quickly-expiring offer that amounted to a Basic Economy level of unlimited data.
Fortunately, the traffic dystopia I feared did not quite happen at I/O 16, and this location revealed some redeeming qualities.
Having the analog environment of nature around was foremost among them–especially on Wednesday, when the temperature soared into the ’80s. Typing on my laptop in the shade of the press center brought back pleasant memories of 2012’s Tech Policy Summit, staged at a resort outside of Napa. But even in the concrete surroundings of the seating bowl, the noise of birds chirping offered a healthy reminder that much of the world doesn’t care what we humans do with circuits and code.
Shoreline is surrounded by parking lots, but they looked much better covered by tents and stages for I/O’s various panels and talks. And looking up on walks from one location to another often rewarded me with the sight of 747s and A380s low overhead on their approaches to SFO.
The official hotels Google suggested were no cheaper than most San Francisco hotels, but the clean, comfortable Airbnb suite I found in downtown Mountain View was much cheaper than anything I’ve seen listed in the city.
Finally, we did get to experience a concert at this concert venue, Wednesday night’s performance by Charli XCX and Kygo.
But while Google’s shuttle from the Mountain View Caltrain station–not advertised in advance–got me to I/O surprisingly quickly on Wednesday, on Thursday two shuttles in a row left without me because they had no seats left. On Friday, the bus arrived sorely late and then crawled through traffic, finally depositing me at Shoreline after almost as much time as it might have taken to walk the distance.
The weather also got less idyllic after Wednesday, even as the risk of sunburn remained the same. My teeth may have started chattering once or twice Thursday night and Friday afternoon. (Cardinal rule of packing for the Bay Area: Whatever season it is, bring a fleece jacket.)
And while having class outside is usually a great idea, it remains difficult to see a laptop’s screen in sunlight. Brightening the screen was not always a smart response at I/O; power outlets were a lot scarcer than they would have been in a conventional convention facility like Moscone.
All things being equal, I’d rather see I/O move back to San Francisco. But I suspect that Google is content with staging its event at a private space next to its headquarters that it can take over–a sort of Google Island, if you will–and that next May, we’ll have the same battles with traffic and logistics.
I spent two days this week working in large buildings in D.C., as if I had a full-time job or something. The reasons: Access’s Crypto Summit and the D.C. chapter of the Internet Society’s Internet Governance Forum USA. Neither conference gave me anything I had to write about on the spot, but things I learned at each wonkfest will almost certainly wind up in my coverage later on.
Comcast’s announcement over the weekend of this streaming-only TV service left some key questions unanswered–like, would you save money on this and a standalone Comcast Internet subscription compared to Comcast’s current bundle of broadband, local channels and streaming HBO?–so I tried to address those concerns in this extra post.
Amazon turned 20 years old on Tuesday, and I marked the occasion by using my regular column spot to assess its footprint on tech policy over those two decades. The verdict, based on conversations with people across the political spectrum: It’s been more of a follower than a leader, and in some cases it’s been part of the problem. Do the 100-plus comments mean my verdict set off an extended debate? No, they mean a lot of people wanted to complain about Amazon’s delivery times.
I’ve been looking forward to writing this column for several years, and when the end of Microsoft’s support for Windows XP finally arrived I found it strangely enjoyable to revisit stories I’d written five and 10 years ago about XP. I’ve since heard from a few readers who say they prefer XP to Windows 7 or 8 not just because they need to run legacy apps or don’t want to buy a new PC, but because XP is easier. I’m wary of questioning a reader’s subjective judgment, but… um, no.
(Screenshot shows how the story renders in a copy of Internet Explorer 6 in Windows XP. Don’t ask how I sourced that image.)
4/8/2014: Windows XP, WTOP
I talked for a few minutes about the end of XP support and what users of that fossilized malware magnet of an operating system could do to stay safe.
To judge from the low number of Facebook and Twitter shares displayed next to this story, almost nobody read my attempt to concisely how the intersection of browser security models with Web apps that look and work like local ones can lead to dysfunctional results. I’ll try to find a more enticing topic next week.
I had two stories this week show up online without the links I’d added. Since two different sites and CMSes were involved, I’m left with the conclusion that I’m personally snakebit. Or that I maxed out a monthly link quota that I didn’t know existed.
This was not the column I’d originally written for this week, but when a federal court handed down a ruling Tuesday morning that gutted the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to enforce net-neutrality regulations, I had to drop everything and write an analysis of a result that I saw coming back in 2010. This post initially appeared without any of the links I’d added, for reasons nobody has been able to figure out; we fixed that earlier today.
For the second time in three weeks, my USAT column dealt with a problem I’d experienced on my own computer–in this case, annoying Keychain prompts by the Mac version of Chrome. The column somehow got posted without any links; I’ll ask management about that.
I spent the workweek in San Francisco–as in, my flight left National Airport at 8 a.m. Monday, and my flight home landed at Dulles around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Next week will also involve a long commute: I’m off to Las Vegas tomorrow for the CTIA 2013 wireless trade show.
I spoke on a panel with Reputation Capital’s Mary Ellen Slayter, the Starr Conspiracy’s Lance Haun and Angles PR’s Ania Kubicki about good and bad ways PR types can deal with the press. (What was I doing at an HR-oriented conference? Mary Ellen’s an old friend from the Post and invited me onto the panel.)
I talked to WTOP about Google’s I/O news on Wednesday, but that interview doesn’t seem to have been preserved on the station’s index for that day. Drat!
The headline for this Google I/O recap popped into my head almost fully formed. I’m glad the editors stuck with that; I’m a little disappointed nobody picked up the Suzanne Vega reference in the excerpt that shows up in search results and on D News’ home page.
I was interviewed again that evening–this time at a press reception, along with USA Today’s Ed Baig, by Thai tech journalist Chatpawee Trichachawanwong. I don’t know if that piece has run, or how insightful Ed and I might sound in it. (We didn’t have much time to prepare.)
A question from a relative looking to prune the assortment of photo apps on his laptop led to this column. It also includes a tip about the difficulty you may have sharing some of the neater multimedia-enhanced photos your phone’s camera can take.
My ongoing campaign to prop up the airline industry led me to Denver this weekend, where I moderated one panel and attended others at Free Press’s National Conference for Media Reform, wrote one of the pieces listed below, escaped the conference for a few hours Friday to see the Rockies’ home opener, and caught up with the old friends I stayed with.
I wrote this in part to push back against the blood-feud school of tech journalism, in which every action by Google (or Apple, Facebook, Microsoft or Samsung) must be viewed as a stab at one or all of its rivals. I think Google forking the Apple-driven WebKit browser-engine code shouldn’t be that bad for Apple, may be good for Chrome users–and is certainly helpful for reducing the threat of a Web monoculture.
I led a discussion about the factors that lead people to drop cable or satellite TV service–and make it hard for competing video providers to enter the market–with lawyer and lobbyist Gene Kimmelman, author and activist Susan Crawford, Netflix public-policy director Corie Wright and Free Press research director Derek Turner. If video surfaces of our chat, I’ll add a link here.4/25/2013: The organizers added an audio recording of the panel to the session page linked above.
I screwed up this post by not mentioning Facebook’s good implementation of the security measure I’d lauded last week. The social network had added two-step verification back in May of 2011, but I’d missed the news that day–the start of a long weekend on vacation and mostly offline–and ever since. After two readers set me straight on my Facebook page, I e-mailed corrected sentences to my (capable and forgiving) editor while waiting to board my flight home from Denver, and she had the piece updated before they’d shut the cabin door.
As it did last year, Panasonic ran a series of interviews with tech-industry types, journalists, athletes, politicians and various other guests from its CES exhibit. Here, I discussed the intersection of sports and digital media with the Sports Business Journal’s Eric Fisher and host Jordan Burchette. I trust nobody was surprised to see me rant yet again about the idiocy of regional blackouts for live game coverage.
This show assessment for the NewsHour’s Rundown blog got a shout-out on that night’s NewsHour broadcast, right after an interview of my old Post cubicle-mate Cecilia Kang. Which makes a certain amount of sense, since the piece’s length and tone made it the closest thing to the CES-recap columns I wrote for the Post for… wow, 14 years in a row.
Note that the first version of this posted had a stupid mistake in the description of 4K resolution; when I was trimming a paragraph on the technology, “million” wound up where “thousand” should have been, and it took a reader’s comment to bring that to my attention. (That’s only one of the reasons why I try to read every comment.)
I did a post like this back in 2011 that critiqued the absence of non-TiVo video recorders (among other things), didn’t think to return to the theme last year, but realized it would fit in well with DisCo’s focus on the ways outside factors distort and limit what the tech business can do.
An editor at NBC noticed the column I wrote for USA Today about Java security last spring and e-mailed to ask if they could interview me for that evening’s show. They recorded something like 30 minutes’ worth of footage; they asked good questions, didn’t cut off my answers and finished by asking if there was anything else I wanted this piece to say. Maybe 10 seconds of that wound up on the air, with me identified as a “USA Today Technology Writer.”
(I was worried they wouldn’t use any of it. Between the heat from the studio lights in NBC’s Nebraska Avenue offices and my own don’t-screw-this-up anxiety, I started getting a little flustered and began fumbling some of my answers.)
Anyway, now I can cross “be interviewed as an expert on a national nightly-news show” off the bucket list. And in yet another weird coincidence, that night’s broadcast also featured my friend Daniel Greenberg, one of my best freelance contributors at the Post, talking about video-game violence.
This week’s column looks at the persistence of Adobe Flash on the desktop and recants some of my earlier optimism about a quick sunset for that format. (Though I have to note that Discovery’s new design finally does away with Flash for slide shows, even older ones; I no longer feel guilty about linking out to those.) It also shares a few tips about talking crash-prone browsers out of their sulk.