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Friday, December 31, 2010

Six Downloads to Improve Microsoft Office - PCWorld

Six Downloads to Improve Microsoft Office - PCWorld

No one has ever called the world's most popular office suite perfect--but these programs bring it a lot closer to being so.

Anyone who uses Microsoft Office will agree on two things: It's a powerful collection of applications, and it needs improvements.
Here are six programs that bring Office a lot closer to what it should be. The first three work across multiple Office applications, improving the much-loved--and much-hated--ribbon-based interface. The other three are application-specific, giving Outlook, Word, and Excel additional capabilities that Microsoft either didn't think of or didn't bother with.
For links to these downloads all in one convenient place, see our "Six Downloads to Improve Microsoft Office" collection.

User Interface Improvements

Office Tab
Office TabIf you've ever had multiple Excel worksheets open at a time, you know the frustrations of switching among them and keeping track of which is which. The same goes for Word documents and PowerPoint presentations.'s Office Tab adds tabbed document management to those three applications, making the chore much easier. As with the tabbed Web pages in your browser, you can easily switch between tabs, rearrange them, or right-click for a menu of options.
Extendoffice also sells separate tab programs for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but if you use any two of those applications, the full Office Tab program costs less.
Download Office Tab | Price: $25; 30-day free trial | Supports Office 2003, 2007, and 2010 (does not yet support PowerPoint 2010)
Search Commands
Search CommandsDo you know, off-hand, which ribbon you need to change Word's AutoCorrect options? Or which Excel ribbon you need for sorting a worksheet? There's always a feature that you just know is around somewhere, but Help is a far too slow and painful way to find it.
This freebie from Microsoft Office Labs won't eliminate your need to ask such questions, but it will probably provide answers. Simply go to the Search Command ribbon and enter a keyword to bring up a row of appropriate icons. One is bound to be the item you want.
Search Commands works in the 2007 versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Download Search Commands | Price: Free | Supports Office 2007
Classic Menu for Office 2007
Classic Menu for Office 2007If you miss the old Microsoft Office user interface--the one with menus instead of ribbons--Classic Menu is a dream come true. Install it, and you're back to the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint you love.
And Addintools, the creator of this download, brings back the menu the right way: It augments the ribbon interface rather than replacing it. Classic Menu simply adds another ribbon--one with the old, familiar menus and, as a bonus, the old, familiar toolbars. It's there when you want it, but you can always click on another ribbon and use the more modern interface when the mood strikes you.
As the name implies, this program is for Office 2007. Addintools sells similar add-ons for the various Office 2010 packages.
Download Classic Menu for Office 2007 | Price: $30; 30-day free trial | Supports Office 2007

Specific Application Improvements

LookeenYou have a lot of information stored in Outlook--your entire contact list, appointments, countless e-mail messages. And the only thing you have to search it with is...Outlook.
Unless you're willing to drop $40 for Lookeen, that is. Then you'll have all sorts of fast, indexed searches at your fingertips. For instance, you can select an e-mail message and click the Conversations icon to bring up all of the messages that Lookeen thinks are part of the same conversation, as well as possibly relevant appointments and contacts. Other searches will find elements added today or this week, or items that are "more like this."
It can even search outside of Outlook, making it a desktop search tool.
Download Lookeen | Price: $40; 14-day free trial | Supports Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010
CrossEyesWord documents aren't sausages--there's nothing gross about seeing how they're made.
With Levit & James's CrossEyes, you can see exactly what's going on inside a Word document. Is that word bold and red because someone assigned a particular style to it, or simply because someone made it bold and red? That sort of difference means a lot when you're altering a document's look, especially if you're not the only person who has worked on that file.
Not every Word user needs CrossEyes; but if you have to reformat other people's work, it's a blessing.
CrossEyes is currently on version 4. Version 5, which is in public beta as I write this, supports Word 2010.
Download CrossEyes | Price: $30; 15-day trial | Supports Word 2003 and 2007
ASAP Utilities
ASAP UtilitiesThis Excel add-in puts all sorts of tools onto the application's ribbon. With it, you can format the on-screen view (hiding grids, zero values, and other possibly distracting bits), select the cell with the smallest or largest number, select all the cells with errors, freeze panes on multiple sheets at once, and simultaneously save the current file and create a backup.
That's just a small sample of all the ways this tool allows you to manipulate numbers, text, links, and information. And if its vast offerings get too confusing (it's really for Excel power users), you can put your most-used options in the customizable 'My favorite tools' menu.
And if things become too frustrating, you can relieve some tension by pulling down the ribbon's Start menu and selecting Funny (error) messages. I got 'Error saving file! format drive now?'
Download ASAP Utilities | Price: $49 for commercial use, after 90-day trial period; free for noncommercial use, unless "you don't want to be forced to update to the new version twice a year...or if you like this program and think it is worth the money." | Supports Excel 2000, 2002/XP, 2003, 2007, and 2010 (32-bit)
Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes PCWorld's Answer Line column and blog.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Will 2011 Signal a Mac Virus Onslaught? Not So Fast - PCWorld

Will 2011 Signal a Mac Virus Onslaught? Not So Fast - PCWorld

s it really true that it's only a matter of time before Macintosh users are under siege by a flood of viruses and malware? McAfee announced recently that 2011 would be a bad year for people using Apple computers, as hackers will be increasingly attracted by growing Mac market share. It's not at all hard to find experts who agree.

The thing is, they also agreed back on July 18, 2010, June 17, 2010, April 9, 2008, and October 20, 2006, among many other dates in the past which I didn't bother excavating from Google. Remember that horrible Christmas of 2006, when all of your Macs broke simultaneously?

Me neither.

How malware hackers eat

It's worth noting how computer malware comes into being. Unlike biological viruses, such as H1N1, malware doesn't spontaneously create new offspring. New viruses require the effort of "black hat" hackers, who try to create code that is easy to replicate, hard to remove, and does something to benefit of its creator.

That last bit is a crucial part of the malware environment. A few malware hackers write software attacks purely out of malice, but mostly it's done for profit. In theory, the more Mac users there are in the world, the more appealing they become as a target for hackers. This theory is pretty much the sum total of the analysis you'll see about Mac security on many general news sites.

In practice, though, there are three major components that play into the creation of viral attacks:.

Motivation: Hackers will attack where they have reason to do so. Consider the Stuxnet worm that attacked sensitive computers in Iran. If anyone knows for certain who wrote this, or how it was introduced into Iranian nuclear plants, they're not talking to Macworld. But these attacks weren't motivated by the sudden increase of people walking around carrying programmable industrial logic controllers in their pockets.

Opportunity: When there's vulnerability in software-from Apple or or any other vendor-the malware hacker community is almost always the first to know. After all, this is their bread and butter-give them a chance to make money, and they'll race to exploit the vulnerability before it's found and fixed. Serious computer security experts (who are, alas, less frequently quoted in the general media than software vendors and supposed experts who give good sound bites) classify these opportunities into vulnerabilities (theoretical avenues for attacks) and exploits (actual attacks taking place in the real world).

For example, if you go away for the weekend and forget to lock your door, but you come home to an intact house, that's a vulnerability. But if you came back to find that some scoundrel has made off with your worldly possessions, thanks to your forgetfulness, that's an exploit. Most computer security issues you read about-and especially the ones you see on cable TV news-are vulnerabilities. But we're vulnerable to thousands of things a day, including death rays from outer space which do everything from cause cancer to crash your MacBook. Unless you've already lined both your hat and your laptop bag with tinfoil, you're clearly not too worried about this. (Nor should you be-the odds of this occurring are extremely low. And the tinfoil is unlikely to help.)

Herd immunity: Herd immunity is a concept from biological infection that also applies to computers. Disease relies on a certain critical mass to spread: if your population is dominated by those who are immune to infection, it helps curtail the communication of the disease. In terms of computers, it means that so long as the vast majority of machines that your computer interacts with aren't subject to the same malware-i.e. when your Mac talks to Windows PCs-you're less likely to get infected. When your machine talks mostly to computers that are susceptible, herd immunity is lost.

So, the assumption that is made by almost all of the doomsaying articles linked above-and thousands I didn't link to-is incorrect. There is no magic number of Macs, above which they suddenly become less secure. There is instead a theoretical protection that is offered by Macintosh market share. The actual point at which a larger market share becomes dangerous depends entirely on the nature of the threat.

As Macs are built on many of the same technologies as the iPad and iPhone, it is possible that the rapid rise of iOS devices exposes Macs to new vulnerabilities. But until an actual exploit is in circulation, this is simply a conjecture that falls somewhere between "aliens are killing cows in Montana" and "global warming will submerge Manhattan in 2050." It's my opinion that beachfront property in Pittsburgh might be a good buy-and-hold strategy, but there's still considerable debate about how the proven vulnerability of ocean surface rise will play out in human-impact exploits.

How Mac users think

There's a second flaw in the Macs-are-vulnerable argument: the oft-repeated notion that Mac users believe their Macs are immune to attack. This is mentioned in both the McAfee report as well as the Computerworld coverage.

I beg to differ, on the basis of overwhelming-and purely anecdotal-evidence. As a Mac consultant, writer, and generic "known expert" to a bunch of folks in my community, I regularly field questions about Mac security issues. This demonstrates a general understanding that A) security issues exist on the Mac and B) people are curious enough to ask questions. No one has ever asked me whether a cosmic ray can crash their computer-although it can-or if their MacBook can come to life overnight and raid their fridge. Mac users do seem to assume they're safe from death rays and late night Mac snack raids, otherwise, I'd be asked about those threats. If people ask me about malware-and they do-I take that as proof that they don't assume they're immune.

As for what you should be doing about these attacks, that has been covered by experts numerous times in greater detail than I can address here. Given that you're reading this article, you're already doing the most important thing you can: Staying informed. When a new Mac vulnerability breaks, you'll read about it on Macworld and other Macintosh-specific news sites. When this escalates to the level of a circulating exploit, you'll see even more coverage. If and when an exploit becomes common-which has not occurred since the primary method of moving Mac files around was an 800K floppy disk-then you won't be able to avoid hearing about it if you're keeping up on Mac-specific news.

Conversely, you should take any information you get about the Mac from a general news site with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, many tech and computer news websites can fall into the "general" category here more often than they probably should. If you hear about a threat, but it doesn't seem to concern editors at Macworld and other reputable Mac sites, then those general sites are likely missing something. When something is genuinely dangerous, you'll hear about it here from Mac-specific writers and editors. You'll also be told how to protect yourself, if such a method exists.

Critics often accuse Apple of touting the imperviousness of its systems, but it's worth noting that the company acknowledges its imperfections. For example, it still recommends that Mac users scan downloads from untrusted sources with antivirus software. (Users looking for an antivirus package have a number of options to choose from.) Apple itself builds a wide range of security measures into the Mac OS, including-in OS X's most recent incarnation-a limited malware-detection system. Security requires a proactive approach, but Apple helps users out by enabling most of those measures by default.

In the meantime, despite the many varied technical debates to the contrary, you can generally rest easy-unless you enjoy getting lost in the weeds where Mac experts and geeks like to hang out. You'll find many debates among Mac experts about theoretical dangers, and these can sometimes make it into the general media. But that doesn't mean you need to take action every time the hint of a threat pops up in your RSS reader. The vaunted grain of salt and information from reliable sources should see you right.

Skype Adds Video In New iOS App - PCWorld

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseSkype Adds Video In New iOS App - PCWorld

Skype on Thursday introduced a new version of its iOS app, which enables free video chatting between iPhones, iPods and iPads over WiFi and 3G connections.

By Daniel Ionescu

Dec 30, 2010 2:30 PM

Skype on Thursday introduced a new version of its iOS app, which enables free video chatting between iPhones, iPods and iPads over WiFi and 3G connections. Skype users will also be able to make video calls with their friends on Windows computers, as well as with Mac users.
The new Skype iOS app is more flexible solution for video chatting than Apple's own FaceTime, which is built into the OS. Skype users are able to make video calls to other users of the service via WiFi and 3G, whereas FaceTime is limited to WiFi. Skype users can also video chat with either Windows or Mac users of the service, while FaceTime only has a Mac counterpart (so far).
The biggest advantage the Skype iOS app has over FaceTime is that it enables video chatting on older iPhone models and it's not limited to iPhone 4 and the latest iPod touch. Skype's iOS app can use the back camera on the iPhone 3GS, creating interoperability between various iOS devices, including iPads (but there is still no iPad screen optimized version of the app, and you can't initiate video calls).

When making a Skype call from the iPhone app, a gauge will indicate whether a video call is recommended based on the network speed. Though video calls will work over 3G, unless you have a strong connection, the video quality might be affected. This could be one of the reasons why Apple does not allow FaceTime over 3G (unless you jailbreak your phone).
Skype has yet to extend video calling interoperability with users of Google Android phones, unlike other video calling solutions such as Tango or Fring. However, the new video calling feature in the iOS app is a welcomed addition after Skype's embarrassing two-day outage last week.
To see how the video calling feature in the new Skype iOS app, check out the promotional video from Skype below:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CIO update: Post-mortem on the Skype outage

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseAs a follow-up to last week’s outage, here is a detailed explanation of what transpired, the root cause, and plans to mitigate this from happening again in the future. For starters, it helps to understand that Skype is based on a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, which is explained here. Last week, the P2P network became unstable and suffered a critical failure. The failure lasted approximately 24 hours from December 22, 0800 PST/1600 GMT to December 23, 0800 PST/1600 GMT.

What was the cause for the failure?
On Wednesday, December 22, a cluster of support servers responsible for offline instant messaging became overloaded. As a result of this overload, some Skype clients received delayed responses from the overloaded servers. In a version of the Skype for Windows client (version 5.0.0152), the delayed responses from the overloaded servers were not properly processed, causing Windows clients running the affected version to crash.

Users running either the latest Skype for Windows (version, older versions of Skype for Windows (4.0 versions), Skype for Mac, Skype for iPhone, Skype on your TV, and Skype Connect or Skype Manager for enterprises were not affected by this initial problem.

However, around 50% of all Skype users globally were running the version of Skype for Windows, and the crashes caused approximately 40% of those clients to fail. These clients included 25–30% of the publicly available supernodes, also failed as a result of this problem.

If approximately 20% of total Skype clients failed, why was there a much bigger disruption to Skype functionality?
Although Skype staff responded quickly to disable the overloaded servers and to eliminate client requests to them, a significant number of supernodes had already failed. A supernode is important to the P2P network because it takes on additional responsibilities compared to regular nodes, acting like a directory, supporting other Skype clients, helping to establish connections between them and creating local clusters typically of several hundred peer nodes per each supernode.

Once a supernode has failed, even when restarted, it takes some time to become available as a resource to the P2P network again. As a result, the P2P network was left with 25–30% fewer supernodes than normal. This caused a disproportionate load on the remaining available supernodes.

Why weren’t the other supernodes available to help?
The failure of 25–30% of supernodes in the P2P network resulted in an increased load on the remaining supernodes. While we expect this kind of increase in the instance of a failure, a significant proportion of users were also restarting crashed Windows clients at this time. This massively increased the load as they reconnected to the peer-to-peer cloud. The initial crashes happened just before our usual daily peak-hour (1000 PST/1800 GMT), and very shortly after the initial crash, which resulted in traffic to the supernodes that was about 100 times what would normally be expected at that time of day.

Supernodes have a built in mechanism to protect themselves and to avoid adverse impact on the systems hosting them when operational parameters do not fall into expected ranges. We believe that increased load in supernode traffic led to some of these parameters exceeding normal limits, and as a result, more supernodes started to shut down. This further increased the load on remaining supernodes and caused a positive feedback loop, which led to the near complete failures that occurred a few hours after the triggering event.

Regrettably, as a result of the confluence of events – server overload, a bug in Skype for Windows clients (version, and the decline in available supernodes – Skype’s functionality became unavailable to many of our users for approximately 24 hours.

How did Skype help support supernode recovery?
In order to restore Skype functionality, the Skype engineering and operations team introduced hundreds of instances of the Skype software into the P2P network to act as dedicated supernodes, which we nick-named “mega-supernodes,” to provide enough temporary supernode capacity to accelerate the recovery of the peer-to-peer cloud.

By late Wednesday night (PST) it was evident that only a proportion (about 15-20%) of Skype users connections were ‘healing’ and the volume of load on the supernodes continued to be unusually high. In response, our team introduced several thousand more mega-supernodes through the night. During Wednesday night, full recovery of the P2P network was underway and the majority of users were able to connect to the P2P network normally by early morning (California-PST) on December 23rd.

As we reported during the incident, in order to recover the core Skype functionality as quickly as possible, we utilized resources normally used to support Group Video Calling, to deploy supernodes, and over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning we returned these to their normal use and restored Group Video Calling functionality in time for Christmas.

The supernodes stabilized overnight on Thursday and by Friday, several tens of thousands of supernodes were supporting the P2P network. During Friday, we withdrew a significant proportion of the mega-supernodes from service, leaving some in operation to ensure stability of the P2P network over Christmas and New Year.

What is Skype doing to prevent this from happening again?
We understand how important the reliability, security and quality of our software is to Skype users around the world, and we work hard to maintain high standards, as well as develop new features and products.

First, we will continue to examine our software for potential issues, and provide ‘hotfixes’ where appropriate, for download or automatic delivery to our users. Since a bug was identified in Skype for Windows (version, we had provided a fix to v5.0 of our Windows software prior to the incident, and we will provide further updates for download this week. We will also be reviewing our processes for providing ‘automatic’ updates to our users so that we can help keep everyone on the latest Skype software. We believe these measures will reduce the possibility of this type of failure occurring again.

Second, we are learning the lessons we can from this incident and reviewing our processes and procedures, looking in particular for ways in which we can detect problems more quickly to potentially avoid such outages altogether, and ways to recover the system more rapidly after a failure.

Third, while our Windows v5 software release was subject to extensive internal testing and months of Beta testing with hundreds of thousands of users, we will be reviewing our testing processes to determine better ways of detecting and avoiding bugs which could affect the system.

Finally, as we continue to grow, we will keep under constant review the capacity of our core systems that support the Skype user base, and continue to invest in both capacity and resilience of these systems. An investment program we initiated a year ago has significantly increased our capacity already and more investment is planned for 2011 both to support the ongoing roll out of our paid and enterprise products, and to continue to support the growth of our core Skype software that we know millions of users rely on every day.

We are truly grateful to all of our users and humbled by your continued support. We know how much you rely on Skype, and we know that we fell short in both fulfilling your expectations and communicating with you during this incident. Lessons will be learned and we will use this as an opportunity to identify and introduce areas of improvement to our software, further assess and invest in capacity and stability, and develop better processes for outage recovery and communications to our user base. Thank you to everyone.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Apple No Longer Flying under the Security Radar - PCWorld

Apple No Longer Flying under the Security Radar - PCWorld

Apple fans have enjoyed a false sense of security, but Apple platforms and devices are increasingly a ripe target for attack.
By Tony Bradley
Dec 28, 2010 6:11 AM

McAfee has compiled the wisdom and insight of its security researchers and produced the 2011 Threat Predictions Report. The report contains a variety of forecasts, prophecies, and educated guesses on what to expect for computer and information security next year, but one of the most notable is that Apple has achieved some level of critical mass that makes it a prime target.
Based on trends in 2010--both trends in what and how technology is used, as well as trends in attack techniques and attack volume--McAfee surveyed the evolving threat landscape and made some projections for the coming year. Those predictions include a rise in attacks focused on social networking, exploiting geolocation check-in data, and targeting mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets.

That brings us, more or less to Apple's newfound prominence as a malware target. Apple is a leader in both the smartphone and tablet markets, and its Mac OS X platform has been steadily expanding its footprint. Mac OS X has matured from a niche platform for hipsters with money to blow, to a mainstream OS that many businesses and consumers rely on.
The common belief among Apple loyalists that Mac OS X is virtually impervious to attack is a significant part of what makes it so vulnerable. The Apple platform has never been as invulnerable as users believe--easily hacked and compromised by attacks at security conferences. Mac OS X has primarily benefited from being too small of a target to be worth investing the time and effort to exploit, but the rise of the platform, combined with the introduction of the app culture in the upcoming Mac OS X Lion, give attackers something to work with.
The McAfee report explains, "McAfee Labs saw malware of increasing sophistication that targets Mac this year; we expect this trend to increase in 2011. The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments and the easy portability of malicious code between them could put many users and businesses at risk next year and beyond," adding "We anticipate threats of data and identity exposure will become more pronounced."
Mac OS X still represents a mere fraction of the potential Windows-based victims out there, but the false sense of security and general lack of understanding of security threats actually make it an easier target. The rise of mobility--and Apple's prominent role in smartphones and tablets--also paint a bull's eye on Apple's back.
If McAfee is right, 2011 could be a bittersweet year for Apple and Apple fans.

Husband’s E-mail Snooping May Lead to Five Years in Prison - PCWorld

Husband’s E-mail Snooping May Lead to Five Years in Prison - PCWorld

If you've ever had the urge to check someone else's e-mail, then you've got something in common with Leon Walker, a 33-year-old computer technician from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But be warned, it may lead to prison time.

Walker suspected his wife of cheating, so he flipped through the book of passwords she conveniently kept next to the family's shared laptop, logged into her Gmail account and confirmed his suspicions. Now Oakland County prosecutors are charging him with felony computer misuse -- usually reserved for identity thieves, hackers and trade secret embezzlers. He faces five years in prison.

Prosecutor Jessica Cooper believes Walker's credentials as a trained computer technician make him a threat. "The guy is a hacker. [The computer] was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."

Walker is being charged with Michigan statute 752.795, which reads, in part:

"A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following: Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network to acquire, alter, damage delete or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system or computer network."

Though most would agree that reading someone else's e-mail -- whether in a relationship or on a shared computer or not -- is a big no-no, the charges themselves will be difficult to prove, especially since the statute is aimed toward hackers, not Gmail Peeping Toms.

"The word 'e-mail' does not appear in this statute. This is an anti-hacking statute. It does not, in any way, shape or form, encompass reading somebody's e-mail," defense attorney Leon Weiss told ABC News.

Add to the mix the fact that Walker's wife, Clara, was having an affair with her second ex-husband, who had been arrested earlier for beating her in front of her young son, who was born from her first husband. Walker was concerned about continued abuse, so he handed the e-mails over to his wife's first husband and filed an emergency motion to obtain custody.

"I was doing what I had to do," Walker told the Free Press . "We're talking about putting a child in danger."

The trial starts February 7, 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Google Turns Borg: Time to Rein in the Search Giant - PCWorld

Google Turns Borg: Time to Rein in the Search Giant - PCWorld

By Bill Snyder
Dec 26, 2010 10:23 AM
Remember when Microsoft was the company feared for trying to dominate the computing world? That risk has passed, but a new one -- with Google in the role of the bad Borg -- is taking its place.

Microsoft's "ownership" of the desktop operating system and its attempt to own the Internet via Internet Explorer was a terrible detriment to innovation and competition in the tech marketplace -- so it was struck down, first by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust actions and more recently by users as they adopt alternative technologies in the cloud and in mobile devices. It's hard to argue that an unfettered Microsoft, free to strangle the Internet in its cradle by jamming Internet Explorer down everyone's throat, would have been a good thing.

Today, the desktop operating system as we knew it is no longer the centerpiece of computing. That's not to say it isn't important, but technology has moved on. At the moment, nothing has really taken its place; the tech world is multipolar, with products from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and -- perhaps most important -- Google determining how billions of people related to the digital world.

If anything sets the tone for both desktop and mobile computing today, it's search, and there of course is where Google has no real rival. (Sorry Bing, you've yet to move to the major leagues.) The combination of search and advertising is the Windows of today. Search dominates our experience of the Web, while advertising dominates the business model of the Web. That's not a new thought, of course, but Google's planned foray into the online travel business, not a sector I'd normally care about, brings new concerns about the search giant's effect on competition to the fore. Coincidentally, the E.U. shares that concern and is already investigating.

In July, Google reached an agreement to buy ITA Software, a maker of air-travel information applications, but the $700 million deal is awaiting U.S. federal regulatory approval. The acquisition was the subject of a rather critical editorial in the New York Times, a piece that provoked conversation around the Web, some of it pretty interesting.

Greg Sterling over at Search Engine Land critiqued the Times for not just coming out and saying what he thinks the paper really means: block the deal. So I'll say it: Block the deal, and take a hard look at Google's effect on competition.

When Microsoft ruled the earth

In case you weren't around in the 1980s, let me remind you of how Microsoft used to act.

Every now and then, Bill Gates would look around and notice a technology, generally one owned by a small company, and decide it should be part of DOS -- and later, Windows. Microsoft would then add a feature like disk compression or file management to the operating system and give it away. That spelled the end of lots of small competitors and a certain amount of innovation.

Gates later realized that the Internet was the next big thing, so Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer with Windows. That, of course, is what prompted the Department of Justice to sue the company and eventually force it to unbundle IE. It's worth remembering that Microsoft swore up and down that pulling IE from Windows wasn't possible without wrecking the OS. Monopolists always come up with self-serving rationales to convince the world that what they're up to is the way things have to be. Usually they'll tell you that their domination of the marketplace is good for everyone.

Google should be stopped before it gets too strong

Just as Microsoft's power wasn't good for us, neither is Google's growing stature, and Google would do just fine if it were reined in. Indeed, a bit more focus might be helpful. Witness the Nexus One fiasco. Google had no clue how to operate in the mobile market, and it flat out embarrassed itself, probably wasting a good deal of money and time with a poorly thought-out initiative. The Nexus One was hardly an isolated incident. Google TV and Google Wave are similar fiascos by a company trying to do everything but not very well. In fact, the company tripped all over itself for much of 2010.

We're lucky that Google has been so inept, as that has kept it from dominating even more businesses -- so far. At some point, Google could succeed in its new endeavors. Allowing Google to play Microsoft and gradually dominate an expanding ring of related businesses would be bad for Internet users everywhere.

Like it or not, advertising is the lifeblood of the Web. If Google owns ITA, whose software is used by many large travel sites, I'd expect search rankings for competitors such as Kayak and Orbitz to suffer. That means less consumer choice in the short run and the greater loss of innovation due to the much higher bar it would set for any new company to enter the market.

As the Times pointed out, look at what happened to MapQuest when Google entered that business: It tanked, in part because Google started putting its own maps on top in response to queries about locations.

The same logic applies to other markets, including those we may care about more than online travel. Wireless location services, when teamed with search and advertising, are opening the door to innovative new business models. If Google makes another more successful run at the wireless market, what happens to competition in that arena?

Google, like Microsoft before it, needs to be reined in. It will still be a great company, and it will be free to innovate and beat the heck out of its competition -- but that beating will take place on the proverbial level playing field.

This is my last post of the year. Thanks to all of you for reading and taking the trouble to set me straight with your comments and emails when I needed it. See you in 2011. Happy New Year!

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "It's time to rein in Google -- before it assimilates all Web business," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dropbox Review | Macworld

Dropbox Review | Macworld

One of the most popular bits of code around the Macworld offices is Dropbox. We’ve made videos about it, we’ve written about how to get more out of it, we’ve reviewed programs that take advantage of it, and we’ve even given it an Eddy award. But we’ve never reviewed Dropbox itself. So with Dropbox 1.0 for Mac officially released, it’s about time we did. And given that it’s free (more on that below), it’s about as good a candidate for Mac Gems as there is.

Put simply, Dropbox is an amazingly useful combination of a Web service and a Mac OS X program that work together to make your data accessible from anywhere and to keep it synchronized between your computers. Once you’ve installed the Dropbox application and set up a Dropbox account, anything you place in a special Dropbox folder on your Mac is automatically copied to the Dropbox servers, as well as to any other Macs you’ve set up with that Dropbox account. Similarly, whenever you make a change to data in your Dropbox folder on one Mac, those changes are quickly—almost immediately, as long as you have an active Internet connection—reflected in your Dropbox account on the Web and in the Dropbox folders on your other computers.

Dropbox's systemwide menu

If this sounds a bit like the iDisk feature of Apple’s MobileMe service, that’s because it’s similar…except that Dropbox is fast and reliable. Dropbox is also more secure than iDisk, as files stored on the Dropbox servers are encrypted and are transferred using SSL. Dropbox is also smarter about copying files: It transfers smaller files before larger ones, copies only the parts of each file that have changed, and compresses all data for the trip. And Dropbox is better about handling sync conflicts—if the same document is modified on two computers at the same time, Dropbox keeps both copies, adding a “conflicted” message to the name of one.

If this is all Dropbox did, it would be immensely useful for keeping data in sync between Macs and for making them accessible from any computer with a Web browser. For example, I personally use my Dropbox folder for storing all my in-progress documents, letting me work on those documents from any of my Macs. I can also access those documents using the Dropbox app for iPhones and iPads, and I can even edit them on my iOS devices using apps such as the Elements text editor. In addition, many Mac programs, such as TextExpander and 1Password, can use Dropbox to ensure all your Macs have the same settings and data; and because your Dropbox folder is a standard Finder folder, you can use Automator or a utility such as Hazel to automate task across your Macs. But Dropbox does more—much, much more.

For starters, the Dropbox servers automatically save past versions of each synced file, letting you restore any version from the past 30 days using your account on the Dropbox Website. (You can access this feature quickly by right-clicking or Control-clicking a file in your Dropbox folder and choosing Dropbox -> View Previous Versions from the Finder’s contextual menu.) If you’ve got a Pro account—more on that below—you can restore any past version of a Dropbox-synced file, even those versions more than 30 days old.

But perhaps the most useful Dropbox extras relate to sharing your data, both publicly and privately. For starters, you can share any file within the Public folder inside your Dropbox folder by simply giving someone a special URL for that file. Although you can get this link using the Dropbox Website, the easier way is to simply right-click (Control-click) the file in the Finder and choose Dropbox -> Copy Public Link from the contextual menu. You can then paste that URL into an e-mail message, tweet, or document, and the recipient can just click the link to download the file.

Getting the URL for a file in your Public folder
You can also share entire folders within your Dropbox folder by right-clicking (Control-clicking) on a folder and choosing Dropbox -> Share This Folder. You’re taken to the Dropbox site, where you provide the e-mail addresses of the fellow Dropbox users you want to have access. Once one of your invitees logs in to their Dropbox account and accepts your invitation, your folder shows up inside their Dropbox folder. Similarly, you can access folders other users have shared with you.

When you accept the invitation to a shared folder, it appears in your Dropbox folder, and it acts exactly like any other folder, except that in addition to syncing between your computers and devices, it syncs with the Dropbox folder of the folder’s owner and every other person with whom the owner has shared the folder. So, for example, if I add a document to a shared Dropbox folder on my Mac, that document magically appears on the Macs of every other person sharing the folder. This is a brilliant—and brilliantly simple—approach to sharing files and folders over the Internet without having to fuss with OS X’s File Sharing settings or worry about firewalls, routers, and IP addresses. (It also works great for people in the same location—my family uses a shared Dropbox folder for all household documents and information.)

Finally, there’s a sharing feature of Dropbox that often gets overlooked: Any images you drop into the Photos folder inside your Dropbox folder can be viewed in an automatically generated photo gallery on the Web; you create multiple galleries by simply creating subfolders. (To get the URL for a gallery, just right-click on a folder of photos, or go to your account on the Dropbox Website.) You can even share a folder inside your Photos folder, using the folder-sharing procedure described above, to let multiple people add photos to the same gallery. This is the easiest way I’ve found to quickly create an online photo gallery or slideshow.

While the Dropbox program mostly works its magic behind the scenes, there are a few useful options available to you. One of my favorites lets Dropbox display a Growl notification whenever new or updated files are synced to your local Dropbox folder. Another favorite, added to Dropbox earlier this year, is LAN sync: If you’ve got multiple Dropbox-configured computers on your local network, the Dropbox program on your Mac will contact those computers directly to check for new or modified files, rather than going through the Dropbox servers; any changes will similarly be copied directly from one computer to the other, over your network, rather than over the Internet. The end result is much faster syncing between local computers.

The other big new feature of Dropbox 1.0, Selective Sync, lets you choose exactly which files and folders are synced to each of your computers. For example, if you’ve got a MacBook Air with a small drive, and you don’t want everything in the Dropbox folder on your desktop Mac to be synced to your Air, you can open Dropbox’s settings window on your laptop, click Selective Sync, and then choose only the essential Dropbox-synced files and folders. The rest of your data will still exist on your desktop Mac and on the Dropbox servers, but it won’t take up space on your MacBook Air.

Earlier versions of Dropbox didn’t properly copy file metadata such as Mac OS resource forks, which meant that if you wanted to ensure certain types of Mac files—for example, Internet location files and text clippings—remained usable when synced between Macs, you had to compress them into, say, .zip files before placing them in your Dropbox folder. But DropBox 1.0 fixes that flaw, as well.

One of the few flaws Dropbox 1.0 didn’t fix is that the program still places your Dropbox folder, by default, at the root level of your Home folder, in violation of Apple’s developer guidelines. But at least you can manually change that location in the program’s preferences.

The Dropbox application and a basic account, which can sync up to 2GB of data, are free. If you need to be able to sync more data, you can upgrade to a Dropbox Pro 50 account ($99/year for 50GB of data) or a Pro 100 account ($199/year for 100GB of data). You can also get more space by referring friends—you get 250MB for each friend that creates their own Dropbox account.

Dropbox is an indispensable part of my workflow, and it keeps getting better and better with each release. Now that it handles most Mac metadata properly, it integrates seamlessly with the Finder; and with Web-browser access, as well as Dropbox software—and Dropbox-enabled third-party programs—available for OS X, Windows, Linux, and iOS, you can access and edit your data from anywhere and any device. I have yet to find an easier way to share data with other computers and other people. And did I mention the outstanding documentation? If the developers keep this up, Dropbox just might win another Eddy.

AppleInsider | Apple CEO Steve Jobs named Financial Times 'Person of the Year'

Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07Image via WikipediaAppleInsider | Apple CEO Steve Jobs named Financial Times 'Person of the Year'

British international business paper the Financial Times revealed its "Person of the Year" this week, bestowing the honor upon Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs.

The profile of Jobs declares that his presence onstage in January when he unveiled the iPad "capped the most remarkable comeback in modern business history." Authors Richard Waters and Joseph Menn wrote that the instant success of the iPad is perhaps the biggest frustration to Apple's rival, Microsoft.

"Of all the fingers that Apple has poked into Microsoft's eyes over the years, none can have rankled as much as the early success of the iPad," the report reads. "Mr. Gates himself championed a tablet computer nearly a decade ago, though the stylus needed to write on its screen and the PC-like interface generated little demand."

The honor is far from the first time Jobs has been recognized for his success with Apple. Earlier this month MarketWatch declared Jobs the "CEO of the Decade," and that exact same title was given to him a year ago by Fortune.

After a cancer scare that forced him to leave his duties as CEO of Apple for most of 2009, Jobs returned to the stage in September of that year to unveil his company's new iPod lineup. Since he returned, his company has continued to grow, and in May Apple's market capitalization exceeded Microsoft, making it the second largest American company.

The Times profile offers an inside look at Jobs, noting that his style has changed as Apple's business has grown. The company now concentrates more on the mass market, and one Apple veteran described Jobs' new style as more pragmatic.

"Compromise seems like too strong a word, but the greater sense of expediency reflects Apple's new place in the world," the report reads. "Its iPads are now on sale at mass-market retailers -- a world away from the high style of Apple's own retail stores."