I <3 Dropbox!

March 23, 2010

Well, maybe it’s a bit overboard saying that I “heart” Dropbox. I mean it’s just an online storage solution, it hasn’t got breasts or a dazzling personality! But I think it’s pretty cool nevertheless, and today I’m gonna tell you why.

For quite some time now, barely a day has gone by without me seeing or hearing something about “cloud computing”. And although I hate these buzz words that don’t actually mean very much, I finally figured that “the cloud” was something I could use.

I need to access some files an awful lot, wherever I may be. And sometimes that means accessing the files from a library computer, or a computer at a client’s office – in other words, computers that do not belong to me. And even if I do have my netbook on me, I want any alterations made to my files to be synchronized to all my machines automatically.

For reasons too boring to go into here, I can’t access my home machine from the internet. And I am remarkably ill-equipped when it comes to online resources – I use a wordpress.com-hosted blog for crying out loud, I ain’t got a web server of my own kicking around somewhere. And carrying a fistful of USB sticks is not an ideal solution – sticks can easily be misplaced or even stolen. So I decided I needed to sign up for one of those “cloud computing” services, where I put a bunch of files on a third party’s server somewhere out there on the interwebs which I can then access no matter where I am (within reason – if I’m on a camel in the middle of the Sahara and forgot to pack my satellite phone I’d be screwed. But as I own neither a camel or a satellite phone, I think we can rule out that possibility).

Because of my innate stingeyness, I needed a solution that was free. So I fired up my good friend Google, plugged in the search terms “free cloud computing storage” and let ‘er rip. And it turned up a few free solutions, such as G.ho.st, Google’s various products, box.net, oosah.com… There’s a lot out there – if you want a quick list of freebies check out this guide at readwriteweb.com.

But of course, I’m utterly clueless when it comes to all this cloudy Web 2.0 stuff. So I went to my favourite forum and had a look at what folk there were saying on the subject.

Unsurprisingly for an Ubuntu site, a lot of people seemed to rate Ubuntu One. But there were also a bunch who liked DropBox. And I kinda liked what they were saying. So I chose to go with DropBox.

Like a lot of these cloud storage services, DropBox gives you 2GB of space for free. You install this program on the computers you want to be synced (and yes it comes in a linux flavour), create a DropBox folder on each computer, then link those computers to your account. Once that’s done, all you have to do is put files into the DropBox folder on one of the computers, and before you know it those files are accessible from all your synced computers. And you can even access them if you’re on a different computer, as there’s a web interface you can sign into from anywhere!

Another cool feature is the “Public” sub-folder. If you put a file into the Public sub-folder, then right-click on it, you get a link to that file that you can post in a blog, forum, whatever. So you can make chosen files accessible for absolutely anyone you want, without having to tell them your username or password. For instance, here’s a link that will enable you to download a pdf of the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson. If you’ve never read it, I strongly urge you to give it a go. Extremely cool cyberpunk science fiction. And I’ll let you have have it for the very reasonable price of fuck-all.

Cloud computing isn’t for everyone, despite what some characters will try and tell you. A lot of people will have no need for it whatsoever. But if you think it might be useful, go grab yourself a free account and give it a whirl. I’ve certainly been seduced by the sultry maiden called DropBox, as you may have guessed from this gushing love letter. Did I say love letter? That should have said “porn”. Cos DropBox makes me horny as only a sad geek can be!!

Note: Unfortunately, some of the info here is out of date. For instance, g.ho.st no longer provides a free service (though they’ll happily take your money) and for some reason the oosah.com site seems to be unavailable. But there definitely are free services available out there. Go check it out!
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I just thought I’d add a footnote to point out there’s another free (as in beer) online storage solution out there: Gspace. This Firefox add-on enables you to use the inbox of a Gmail account as an online disk. Google gives its Gmail users an awful lot of storage – more than 2GB at the moment, and rising all the time – plus you can use any number of Gmail accounts with Gspace. This solution is especially useful if, like me, you own a netbook with limited onboard storage. It works with Windows, OSX and Linux. I use Gspace, and can thoroughly recommend it.

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“Microsoft is good on security” shock bonk

January 26, 2010

Tuesday 26 January 2010

I have listened to the IT security podcast Security Now for some time now, and on the whole I’ve considered the host, Steve Gibson, to be a fairly sensible fellow. But my faith in the guy has been shaken, big time, after he said some real crazy-assed shit in the latest show (episode 232).

Gibson and fellow host Leo Laporte were talking about how Microsoft have been making incremental improvements to the security profile of its infamous web browser Internet Explorer. IE8 is a lot more secure than IE6, they said. Which is a reasonable thing to say. But then Laporte uttered these incredible words: “”Microsoft doesn’t have the greatest track record but I don’t think they’re particularly worse than anyone else [on security].” And the alleged security expert Gibson agreed!

Now, Laporte has a bit of an excuse. He’s a tech head, not a security guy. Yes, his technical background should tell him that Microsoft is a train wreck security-wise. But he’s a Microsoft fan in general, so we shouldn’t expect too much from him. But Gibson is a security professional – his hard disk data recovery utility, Spinrite, gets a lot of plaudits (many of them on his own site), and through his company GRC he sells a bunch of other security products. And the podcast generally makes excellent listening. So how can he be so deluded about Microsoft?

Because Microsoft is a truly appalling company when it comes to the security of its products (Microsoft is appalling in a lot of other ways too, but let’s concentrate on security here). For years the Windows operating systems have been infested with spyware, viruses, trojans and other malware. It’s only since Vista that Windows has had any decent security model at all. The browser Internet Explorer has long been a joke to most security-conscious computer users, most of whom use Firefox or Google Chrome/Chromium instead. IE is probably the vector for most of the attacks that take place over the internet. So even if we disregard IE’s other shortcomings, like its disregard for open standards embraced by the rest of the industry, it fails miserably when it comes to its users’ security.

Even Patch Tuesday – Microsoft’s vaunted update cycle – is a dangerous joke. Microsoft releases its software updates on the second Tuesday of every month (“whether they need to or not”, LOL). There could be a major 0-day vulnerability in the world’s most widespread personal computer software, threatening millions of users right now – but the fix won’t be released until the second Tuesday in the month comes round. And the computer criminals know this. They can engineer their attacks to make the most of the period between one Patch Tuesday and the next. If Mozilla (for example) discover a vuln in Firefox (for example) they will release the fix as soon as they can – usually within a couple of days. Microsoft will very very rarely release a fix before Patch Tuesday. And Gibson agrees with Laporte that Microsoft are “no worse than anyone else”? Crazy…

Tell you what though, Security Now 232 is still worth a listen. I won’t list everything covered, I’ll just urge you all to check it out (download link here). My confidence in Gibson may have been shaken by his comments about Microsoft, but the fact remains that he knows a lot about his business. One thing I learned is that I’ve been pronouncing the word “kludge” incorrectly for years. “Kludge” is hacker-speak, meaning an inelegant solution to a problem. I’ve always pronounced it to rhyme with “budge”. But in the podcast Gibson and Laporte said it “klooj”. That bugged me, so I googled it. And Dictionary.com, Wikipedia, and Answers.com (as well as many more sources) all agree that “kludge” is indeed pronounced “klooj”. So Gibson and Laporte were right about that. But they are dead wrong about Microsoft.

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