Monthly Archives: May 2008
Mozilla Corp., of Mountain View California has released Version 3 of their very popular Firefox browser. This update is more secure, easier to use and more personal. Among Firefox 3’s new security features is one-click access to site info to allow users to quickly see information on who owns a given Web site and whether the connection is protected from eavesdropping.
What’s New in Firefox 3
Firefox 3 is based on the Gecko 1.9 Web rendering platform, which has been under development for the past 33 months. Building on the previous release, Gecko 1.9 has more than 14,000 updates including some major re-architecting to provide improved performance , stability, rendering correctness, and code simplification and sustainability. Firefox 3 has been built on top of this new platform resulting in a more secure , easier to use, more personal product with a lot more to offer website and Firefox add-on developers.
• One-click site info: Click the site favicon in the location bar to see who owns the site and to check if your connection is protected from eavesdropping. Identity verification is prominently displayed and easier to understand. When a site uses Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates, the site favicon button will turn green and show the name of the company you’re connected to. ( Try it here! )
• Malware Protection: malware protection warns users when they arrive at sites which are known to install viruses, spyware, trojans or other malware. ( Try it here! )
• New Web Forgery Protection page: the content of pages suspected as web forgeries is no longer shown. ( Try it here! )
• New SSL error pages: clearer and stricter error pages are used when Firefox encounters an invalid SSL certificate. ( Try it here! )
• Add-ons and Plugin version check: Firefox now automatically checks add-on and plugin versions and will disable older, insecure versions.
• Secure add-on updates: to improve add-on update security, add-ons that provide updates in an insecure manner will be disabled.
• Anti-virus integration: Firefox will inform anti-virus software when downloading executables.
• Vista Parental Controls: Firefox now respects the Vista system-wide parental control setting for disabling file downloads.
• Effective top-level domain (eTLD) service better restricts cookies and other restricted content to a single domain.
• Better protection against cross-site JSON data leaks .
Easier to Use
• Easier password management: an information bar replaces the old password dialog so you can now save passwords after a successful login.
• Simplified add-on installation: the add-ons whitelist has been removed making it possible to install extensions from third-party sites in fewer clicks.
• New Download Manager: the revised download manager makes it much easier to locate downloaded files, and you can see and search on the name of the website where a file came from. Your active downloads and time remaining are always shown in the status bar as your files download.
• Resumable downloading: users can now resume downloads after restarting the browser or resetting your network connection.
• Full page zoom: from the View menu and via keyboard shortcuts, the new zooming feature lets you zoom in and out of entire pages, scaling the layout, text and images, or optionally only the text size. Your settings will be remembered whenever you return to the site.
• Podcasts and Videocasts can be associated with your media playback tools.
• Tab scrolling and quickmenu: tabs are easier to locate with the new tab scrolling and tab quickmenu.
• Save what you were doing: Firefox will prompt users to save tabs on exit.
• Optimized Open in Tabs behavior: opening a folder of bookmarks in tabs now appends the new tabs rather than overwriting.
• Location and Search bar size can now be customized with a simple resizer item.
• Text selection improvements: multiple text selections can be made with Ctrl/Cmd; double-click drag selects in “word-by-word” mode; triple-clicking selects a paragraph.
• Find toolbar: the Find toolbar now opens with the current selection.
• Plugin management: users can disable individual plugins in the Add-on Manager.
• Integration with Windows: Firefox now has improved Windows icons, and uses native user interface widgets in the browser and in web forms.
• Integration with the Mac: the new Firefox theme makes toolbars, icons, and other user interface elements look like a native OS X application. Firefox also uses OS X widgets and supports Growl for notifications of completed downloads and available updates. A combined back and forward control make it even easier to move between web pages.
• Integration with Linux: Firefox’s default icons, buttons, and menu styles now use the native GTK theme.
• Star button: quickly add bookmarks from the location bar with a single click; a second click lets you file and tag them.
• Tags: associate keywords with your bookmarks to sort them by topic.
• Location bar & auto-complete: type in all or part of the title, tag or address of a page to see a list of matches from your history and bookmarks; a new display makes it easier to scan through the matching results and find that page you’re looking for. Results are returned according to their frecency (a combination of frequency and recency of visits to that page) ensuring that you’re seeing the most relevant matches. An adaptive learning algorithm further tunes the results to your patterns!
• Smart Bookmarks Folder: quickly access your recently bookmarked and tagged pages, as well as your more frequently visited pages with the new smart bookmarks folder on your bookmark toolbar.
• Places Organizer: view, organize and search through all of your bookmarks, tags, and browsing history with multiple views and smart folders to store your frequent searches. Create and restore full backups whenever you want.
• Web-based protocol handlers: web applications, such as your favorite webmail provider, can now be used instead of desktop applications for handling mailto: links from other sites. Similar support is available for other protocols (Web applications will have to first enable this by registering as handlers with Firefox).
• Download & Install Add-ons: the Add-ons Manager (Tools > Add-ons) can now be used to download and install a Firefox customization from the thousands of Add-ons available from our community add-ons website . When you first open the Add-ons Manager, a list of recommended Add-ons is shown.
• Easy to use Download Actions: a new Applications preferences pane provides a better UI for configuring handlers for various file types and protocol schemes.
Improved Platform for Developers
• New graphics and font handling: new graphics and text rendering architectures in Gecko 1.9 provides rendering improvements in CSS, SVG as well as improved display of fonts with ligatures and complex scripts.
• Color management: (set gfx.color_management.enabled on in about:config and restart the browser to enable.) Firefox can now adjust images with embedded color profiles.
• Offline support: enables web applications to provide offline functionality (website authors must add support for offline browsing to their site for this feature to be available to users).
• A more complete overview of Firefox 3 for developers is available for website and add-on developers.
• Memory usage: Several new technologies work together to reduce the amount of memory used by Firefox 3 over a web browsing session. Memory cycles are broken and collected by an automated cycle collector, a new memory allocator reduces fragmentation, hundreds of leaks have been fixed, and caching strategies have been tuned.
• Reliability: A user’s bookmarks, history, cookies, and preferences are now stored in a transactionally secure database format which will prevent data loss even if their system crashes.
The only caveat affecting Microsoft Windows users thus far:
• A Windows Media Player (WMP) plugin is not provided with Windows Vista and some other versions of Windows. To view Windows Media content, you must install this plugin by following these instructions . After installing you may need to check for Windows Updates before the plugin will show content properly.
Windows Operating Systems
Windows Server 2003
Pentium 233 MHz ( Recommended: Pentium 500MHz or greater)
64 MB RAM ( Recommended: 128 MB RAM or greater)
52 MB hard drive space
Mac Operating Systems
Mac OS X 10.4 and later
Macintosh computer with an Intel x86 or PowerPC G3, G4, or G5 processor
128 MB RAM ( Recommended: 256 MB RAM or greater)
200 MB hard drive space
Linux Software Requirements
Please note that Linux distributors may provide packages for your distribution which have different requirements.
Linux kernel – 2.2.14 or higher with the following libraries or packages:
glibc 2.3.2 or higher
XFree86-3.3.6 or higher
gtk+2.0 or higher
fontconfig (also known as xft)
Intel Pentium II or AMD K6-III+ 233 MHz CPU ( Recommended: 500MHz or greater)
64 MB RAM ( Recommended: 128 MB RAM or greater)
52 MB hard drive space
OLPC Adds Windows XP To XO Laptop
Microsoft said Thursday that it has reached a deal with the One Laptop Per Child project to make its Windows XP operating system available on the group’s low-cost notebook computers for distribution to students in developing countries.
“By supporting a wide variety of affordable computing solutions for education that includes OLPC’s XO laptop, we aim to make technology more relevant, accessible, and affordable for students everywhere,” Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, said in a statement.
Microsoft will charge OLPC a highly reduced Windows XP licensing fee of $3 per unit under a program it calls Unlimited Potential. OLPC’s goal is to make the XO widely available to students in poor nations for a total price of less than $100.
OLPC said it now plans to offer XO models with both the Windows XP and Linux operating systems. “Today’s announcement, coupled with future plans for a dual-boot version of the XO laptop, enhances on our ability to deliver on this vision,” OLPC chairman and founder Nicholas Negroponte said in a statement.
Negroponte added that OLPC would work with “third parties” to port the XO’s open source Sugar user interface to Windows XP. Sugar features numerous tools and miniapplications that students can use to create content and music, interact with friends and teachers, and browse the Web.
The plan isn’t without controversy.
Sugar was developed by Sugar Labs. Founder Walter Bender recently left the OLPC project over differences with Negroponte concerning the project’s direction. The rift could hinder OLPC’s plans to port Sugar to Windows XP. “There’s a lot of engineering and it’s not clear that it’s the best use of engineering resources,” Bender stated on Friday.
However, some educational officials said adding Windows to the OLPC XO is a practical move. Windows support on the XO device means that our students and educators will now have access to more than computer-assisted learning experiences. They will also develop marketable technology skills.
Microsoft said OLPC is planning to start testing Windows XP on the XO starting in June. Here’s a picture of what the XP Laptop looks like.
It’s still not clear as to why Microsoft will be licensing their “discontinued” operating system in an effort to help those less fortunate. Perhaps, it’s the means to get their hooks into young computer users who will be forced to continue using Windows based technologies since it is what they were originally introduced too and understand how to operate. Anyone for world domination?
One Laptop Per Child
The XO Laptop
Would you like to donate to the OLPC cause? Bring the light of learning to a child who would otherwise be left without adequate access to information and education with a donation of one or more XO laptops. A donation of $200 will pay for and deliver one XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, $400 will pay for and deliver two XO laptops, and so on. Your entire contribution will be tax-deductible.
The mission and goal of OLPC is to provide a laptop that costs $100 to manufacture. The current “real cost” is around $180 per unit – still an excellent value for the money.
With all the sites that require sign-in passwords — and all the havoc that could be visited upon your life should some thief crack them — effective account access management is a top job for the savvy computer user.
Naturally, you should avoid the obvious choices when setting a password. However, you should also never be obvious when setting up that password reminder failsafe device that asks you for Mom’s maiden name.
Creating and remembering strong passwords — like backing up the important files on our computers’ — is something many of us know we should do, but never get around too.
Who can blame you? Having to come up with user names and passwords for virtually everything we do on a computer is enough to tempt anyone to use “Magic123” over and over. I’ve even witnessed people who keep lists of passwords taped to their computer screens.
With a little time and some discipline, you can create strong passwords and do a better job managing them. Of course, no matter how many precautions you take, no password is ever 100 percent secure. By the same token, you don’t have to follow all the advice in this column to avoid password theft.
Be Obscure, Be Weird
By now, most people know that you shouldn’t use personal information such as your name, birth date or address in a password. It’s also not a good idea to use something obvious such as “1234” or “password.” Passwords should be at least seven or eight characters in length. The longer the password, the stronger it is.Next, choose a password that would appear as nothing more than a random list of characters to someone else. Use both uppercase and lowercase letters and, if possible, use punctuation marks from all over the keyboard.
One technique is to take a phrase that means something to you or a line from a favorite song and create a password by taking the first letter of each word of that phrase or line. Make sure to add in some symbols. For instance, you could replace an “a” with “@” but use this technique sparingly in your password.
Although you should never use the same password to secure highly sensitive information on more than one site, it’s probably OK to use the same password for low-risk areas, such as news or sports Web sites.
You should never give out real information in the password helper sections. So for your mother’s maiden name, make up a name you can remember. Use your favorite vacation spot instead of your place of birth. Substitute the name of a pet from a TV show or movie for your real pet.
This may seem a little extreme, but if an online vendor that’s storing your personal information gets compromised, then hackers could use that personal information to piece together details about you and access your account on another site.
Into the Vault
However, since most people need passwords to secure lots of important information, remembering more than one or two long passwords is difficult. That’s where password managers come in. These programs typically are encrypted and act as a vault to store all of your user names and passwords. You only need to remember one master password to open them up.
There are also lots of downloadable password managers, such as KeePass Password Safe, RoboForm and PassKeeper.I’ve personally tested and use KeePass, which is free and Open Source, and found it to be easy to install and use. Once you’ve set up the program, you create a database for your passwords. KeePass lets you organize passwords into groups, and it can generate secure passwords for you. Once the passwords are set, you can copy and paste them into Web sites or drag and drop them.
I’ve been told that RoboForm is also good but the problem I have with this program is I’ve found it installed by hackers on systems that have been hacked. Call me skeptical… but I’m not too comfortable using a password manager that hackers like to use in their sneaky little ways.
If you are the only one using your computer, you can have your Web browser automatically remember them for you. However, this shouldn’t be the only place you store passwords, because when data from your browser is cleared (or if your computer dies), your passwords will vanish.You can also download and install KeePass on portable media, such as a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive, so you can have access to your passwords when using another computer. Make sure to copy your KeePass database from your computer to the USB drive. With KeePass Portable, I can quickly access all my regular websites from my office computer, my home computer or any public system I have access too.
KeePass Password Safe Portable
Lastly, if you’ve run out of good passwords try this FREE password generator – you chose the number of characters (remember 8 should be the minimum), what characters to use in the password and how many different passwords you would like generated. We’ve used this tool on a number of occassions when we wanted to assign a really secure password for someone.
It’s time to say goodbye to an old friend. Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), due in the second quarter of 2008, will be the final XP service pack, according to Microsoft. XP SP2 shipped over three years ago and the company has since shipped hundreds of hot-fixes for the OS, giving users a painful updating experience, with multiple reboots when there been the need to reinstall Windows XP. SP3 will consolidate all of these fixes into a single package and, surprisingly, add a few new features, including some that–go figure–debuted first in XP’s successor, Windows Vista .
Q: What is Service Pack 3?
A: Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) is the final Windows XP service pack, a collection of previously-released fixes and product enhancements, as well as a few new features that are unique to this release.
Q: Does SP3 include everything from SP1 and SP2 or do I need to install those first?
A: Though XP SP3 aggregates all of the previously-released XP fixes, Microsoft now says that you will need to install at least SP1 on XP before installing SP3. The company recommends installing SP2 first as well, though that is not required.
Q: What versions of Windows XP will work with SP3?
A: You can apply Service Pack 3 to Windows XP Home Edition, Professional Edition, Tablet PC Edition (any version), or Media Center Edition (any version).
Q: What about Windows XP Professional x64 Edition?
A: SP3 does not apply to the x64 version of Windows XP. Instead, that operating system is updated via service packs aimed at Windows Server 2003. The latest Windows 2003 service pack is SP2.
Q: Windows XP SP2 was released over three years ago. Why the delay on SP3?
A: While Microsoft is an enormous company with over 77,000 employees worldwide and over $50 billion in annual revenues, its organizational structure actually constrains which products are actively developed in some cases. For example, while a large team of developers, product managers, and program managers are involved during the ramp-up to any major OS release, Microsoft then pushes the product into its support organization for follow-up development in the form of hot-fixes, service packs, and so on. Other teams work on out-of-band updates that are typically shipped via the Web and, eventually, a new or existing team is constituted to work on the next major release and the entire process begins anew.
With Windows XP, however, Microsoft was forced to temporarily halt development on XP’s successor, Windows Vista, in order to complete XP SP2. That’s because this release, though provided to customers for free as a typical service pack, was in fact a major OS upgrade and was developed outside of the company’s support structure, a first for any service pack release. After XP SP2 was completed, the people involved with that project moved onto other things, typically Vista or Windows Server 2008.
In the case of Windows XP SP3, Microsoft simply dedicated every available employee it could to completing Windows Vista, which by that time was years behind schedule. So it’s only been since the beginning of this year that anyone turned their attention back to XP’s next and neglected service pack.
Q: What are these new features I keep hearing about?
A: Windows XP Service Pack 3 will not include any major new features, but it will include four minor new features that improve the system’s reliability and security. Contrary to reports, Microsoft has been very up-front about these functional additions for quite some time now.
These new features include:
Network Access Protection compatibility. Announced years ago, this feature allows Windows XP machines to interact with the NAP feature in Windows Server 2008. This functionality is built into the RTM version of Windows Vista as well.
Product Key-less install option. As with Windows Vista, new XP with SP3 installs can proceed without entering a product key during Setup.
Kernel Mode Cryptographics Module. A new kernel module that “encapsulates several different cryptographic algorithms,” according to Microsoft.
“Black hole” router detection algorithm. XP gains the ability to ignore network routers that incorrectly drop certain kinds of network packets. This, too, is a feature of Windows Vista.
Q: That’s it? Is there anything else?
A: Nothing major. Some features have actually been removed, like the taskbar-based Address Bar option.
Q: Why is Microsoft even bothering to release this update? Isn’t everyone moving to Windows Vista?
A: Given the relative security, stability, and reliability of XP with SP2, and the subsequent release of Vista , XP SP3 may seem like a pointless update, but nothing could be further from the truth. Many businesses will roll out new XP-based PCs in the coming years, and as anyone who’s had to update an XP SP2 system can tell you, the 100+ updates that Microsoft has shipped since SP2 can be a nightmare to deploy. If you’re already running XP and have been regularly updating your systems all along, the release of XP SP3 will be a minor event. But if you have planned XP deployments in the future, look very carefully at this release and consider it the baseline for your next generation of PCs. Or, you could always consider Vista , which will of course be updated with genuine new features far longer than will XP.
Q: When will Microsoft ship XP SP3?
A: Microsoft finalized Windows XP Service Pack 3 on April 21, 2008 and will release it publicly to the Web on April 29, 2008.
Here’s the complete Windows XP SP3 release schedule:
RTM (release to manufacturing): April 21
Windows Update (optional update): April 29
Microsoft Download Center: April 29
MSDN/TechNet download: May 2
Windows XP SP3 fulfillment media (CD-based): May 19
Volume license customers download: June 1
Windows Update/Automatic Updates: June 10
Q: So with users now being forced to buy computers with Windows Vista only, what’s a person to do if they still need Windows XP?
A: Some vendors Dell, HP, Fujitsu and others, will be selling systems with Vista as required but allow the purchaser to “downgrade” the system to Windows XP.
Dell’s option is shown below:
Windows Vista ® Business offers new features designed to help you focus more on what’s important – your business. However, some businesses may not be ready to transition away from Windows ® XP, and Dell can help ease the transition. Below are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic.
Is there any way to get Windows XP after June 30th?
Customers may continue to get Windows XP Professional by exercising Downgrade Rights that come with Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate licenses. Dell has the ability to exercise “Windows Vista downgrade rights” on your behalf in the factory if your business is still reliant upon Windows XP and you’d prefer to have Windows XP Professional preinstalled on your PCs.
So, what are Windows Vista “Downgrade Rights”?
Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate have what Microsoft calls “Downgrade Rights.” Downgrade Rights means that anyone with a Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate operating system can downgrade to Windows XP Professional provided they have the media for Windows XP Professional. Customers may use one operating system at any single point in time (cannot run both operating systems simultaneously unless an additional license is purchased). For customers who decide to exercise Downgrade Rights on their own, however, please note that Dell will only support the factory-installed operating system. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium do not have this option, as they are not capable of downgrading to Windows XP.