MP3Tunes Locker/Oboe Review

So you have ripped all your music CDs on your hard drive, and you might be worried about what will happen to all these files if disaster strikes. You can copy them onto an external hard drive, or you can make a copy to an Internet-based backup service. I did a review of MP3Tunes’ Locker music service here on NewsForge/OSTG. The nice thing about this service is that it works across Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms. The bad thing is that the first time you use the service, it will take several days to upload all your data.

Cranite SafeConnect Has A New Twist on VPNs

If you absolutely need total control over your remote users, and need to run the widest possible range of applications, then the Cranite Systems Inc. SafeConnect VPN software should be in your short list of products to consider. I recently did some tests for the company and found that SafeConnect is neither fish nor fowl, and sits squarely between SSL VPN and IPsec products, combining the ease of use of the SSL crowd with end-to-end applications interoperability of IPsec.

I tested the product on a series of laptops and compared how it worked with SSL VPNs from Juniper, Nokia, and other major manufacturers. Overall, the product stood up well in these tests. SafeConnect will prevent eavesdropping over the remote connection no matter where and how your users connect, and it is easily setup in a few hours. It will support a wider range of applications and do so without any additional configuration required. It delivers extremely high file transfer throughput, way beyond any of the SSL VPN products. Finally, it is priced attractively at about a third to a half of what competitive SSL VPN products with equivalent feature sets would cost.

There are several other things the product doesn’t do. It can’t and doesn’t try to compete with the SSL products for unmanaged remote users, since its client must be installed on each remote desktop or laptop. It doesn’t provide the level of client endpoint integrity checking that a Nokia, Juniper or F5 SSL product provides. It also has three major deficiencies: First, it doesn’t prevent users with duplicate credentials from concurrently connecting to the network, and it doesn’t report on these circumstances either. This puts a burden on your IT department to keep track of their client credentials. Second, there is no auditing ability, which we discuss more completely below. Finally, while the product comes with its own LDAP and RADIUS servers, if you do decide to use these pieces you will have to configure them via their separate command line interfaces. Cranite should integrate these into its own graphic configuration screens.

We liked the fact that once you were connected, your remote connection was solid and bullet-proof from man-in-the-middle attacks. We tried to break the connection by sending malformed packets with a bad MAC address – something that would bring down any SSL VPN connection – but SafeConnect kept on going without any problems. About the only way to tear down the connection would be to fill the pipe with a denial of service attack or if we lost the line entirely from our ISP.

You can read my full report on Cranite’s Web site here.

Trusted Dating

Okay, there is a lot going in the next week, with the RSA conference, Valentine’s Day and the release of Firewall, the movie. I couldn’t resist the temptation to draw your attention to the confluence of these events. I was pretty excited back when Beauty and the Geek hit the airwaves, but that’s nothing compared to having Harrison Ford playing a computer security expert. This movie has got to be the hottest thing to happen to computer security since Robert Morris unleashed his worm back in 1988, and he certainly wasn’t as cute as Ford.

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but I can just imagine Ford battling the bad guys by bashing them over the head with a Sniffer or some big Catalyst switch, or better yet, something involving a wiring closet filled with snakes and a long whip to taunt the villains. Wait a minute, wrong movie franchise. Still, I can see the excitement building in the scene where he gains root access to his Linux server, and John Williams score swelling as the hacker is doing a SQL injection to obtain his bank’s customer records. And of course, we all can’t wait for Firewall 2.0, where Ford is fighting zero-day exploits on peer-to-peer viruses created by a bunch of Estonian high school kids during their lunch break. Really, the opportunities are so endless, it makes me want to start writing that script now.

Alright, you hopefully can tell that I am kidding. And that is the problem with computer security experts in a nutshell — how does it translate to something that a movie star can grasp and portray that has some physical manifestation? It doesn’t, really.

The problem with a lot of computer security is whom do you trust, and how do you establish a trusted relationship? I will have more to say about this in my dispatch next week, when I take my eyes off Indy and give you a look at a nifty new VPN product. But while you are waiting for that, you might remember that next Tuesday is Valentine’s Day, and that brings me to how we tie this all together.

Apropos of V-Day, there were a couple of stories in today’s LA Times about online dating, including an examination of when you are in a relationship and at what point you delete your Jdate account. Or at least no longer check to see who has replied to your posts, indicating that I guess you are no longer in the market. Talk about trust. Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife and I hope I never have to face the whole online (or even offline) dating scene again: I wasn’t a great dater in my 20s, and in my (mumble) later years most recently I wasn’t much of a dater either. But this isn’t about me.

What caught my eye this week was a site called TrueDater.com. This is a site where you can post information about various people on other online services, including the major ones such as Match.com, eharmony, Yahoo Personals and MySpace. The idea is to combine the Netflix ratings system for videos with the online dating world. If someone represents themselves as a tall thin Caucasian and when you meet f2f you see that he is a short, balding black dude, you can quickly exit stage left and rush to your nearest Starbucks and post the truth about this person’s credentials.

I haven’t tried the site, but the theory sounds terrific. Daters can send emails to each other and communicate their findings. And one of the things that you should know is the majority of people on their site are female (not that I am going to act on this information!). You can also post positive reviews in addition to the negative ones.

Finally, a mechanism for trusted dating. It is so clever, it should be a Microsoft API. Or maybe the concept for the next Harrison Ford movie.

Web Conferencing Compendeum

For close to ten years I have maintained a page on my site that has links to numerous Web-based voice and data conferencing products. If you know of something that I have omitted, please drop me an email with the details.

Lately, I came across a great blog maintained by Ken Molay. He has tips and tricks on how to do better Webinars, and plenty of insider information that is only from someone who really uses the stuff. It is definitely worth a closer look.

Want to start up a meeting over the Web and share your presentation out to desktops in real time? There are a number of companies providing this service. Here I track down what they cost and where they are located. Most of these products regrettably now only support Internet Explorer and Windows configurations, although the more enlightened are finally embracing Firefox and other Mozilla browsers. I used to track community discussion software products but David Woolley does such a great job and keeps better up to date information.

A great history of hubris

One of my favorite words is hubris, overweening pride, from Greek mythology. Tristan Louis has recently written an interesting history of Netscape and draws potential parallels to Google. It is well worth reading.

I will throw in my own bit of Netscape hubris. Back in 1998, when its world domination was in decline, Marshall Rose and I were writing our book on Internet email and we went to Netscape to talk to their email client product manager. He started off our session by asking us if we were familiar with the POP and SMTP protocols. Marshall and I just looked at each other and smiled: little did this clueless product manager know that Marshall’s name was on top of all those RFCs. That is hubris, and why Netscape eventually went nowhere in the email world. Of course, getting absorbed by AOL and whipped by Microsoft also helped move things along.

Review of Star Office Migration tools

If you want to kick the Microsoft Office habit and run Sun’s Star Office, you will need help when it comes to migrating all those valuable archived documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Sun of course has thought of this and has a set of tools to help migrate the documents and macros. Star can read most MS Office formats, but still there are conversion issues.Read my review posted to Newsforge/OSTG here.

IM Interoperability Status Report

Today, the instant messenger world is about where the email world was in the early 1990s. For those of you not around then, MCIMail became one of the first private email companies to connect to the Internet and offer the means to bridge incompatible systems. Then the flood started, and eventually the TCP/IP and POP worlds became the default and no one cared about proprietary systems.

Now Vint Cerf is with Google, and MCIMail (his former home and pet project) is largely forgotten. With the advent of Jabber-based XMPP messaging systems (here is a complete list), and with the work of Apple, IBM, and others, we are now seeing software that can connect multiple IM systems, although it still is pretty crude. The issue is more than just the protocol, you need federated identity between disparate systems to make this all work.

I looked at five products that are available on Windows clients (Google Talk, Gizmo Project, AIM, Skype and Trillian Pro), along with Apple’s iChat. Three of the Windows products are also available on other platforms. All do basic chat or text messages from person to person. Some offer audio and video conferencing features, whereby you can connect multiple people on the same line. Two offer the built-in ability to record your text chats and also record your audio conversations, which are useful for assembling podcasts. And two also offer voicemail systems, so when you are away from your computer you can still receive audio messages.

Just as we were with email in the early 1990s, there are three commercial IM systems that don’t really connect with each other: AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Then Trillian came along a few years ago and produced a single client that allowed you to chat with all three, along with ICQ. Then came Skype, which set things back as its own communications island, but moved chat into a features war with lots of enhancements, including voice conferencing and dial in/dial out features. And now we have all the jabbering Jabber clients, including Gizmo Project, which takes most of Skype’s features a step further but is notably missing file transfer.

Eventually, I will add more to this grid, but this should whet your appetite for what you can do. You can find the page here on my site

Finding New Connections When Wi-Fi Is Not Enough

It’s wireless week here at Web Informant. My article in the New York Times today on new directions for WiFi was a fun article to report and work on, and also fun to get something into my favorite newspaper. One of the interviewees was with Rick MacKinnon, head of the Austin City Wireless project. He told me about an unique phenomena called “drive by WiFi” that has transformed one of the downtown parks that offers free wireless.

He’s seen usage at this particular hotspot rise, since he takes the time to review his usage stats. But when he went to the park he didn’t see anything different and there didn’t seem to be any large population of laptop-totting visitors around. Then he took another look, and figured it out. Given that Texas is usually hot and humid, the people with laptops are often in air-conditioned cars, so they can check their email and surf the Web in comfort. Only in Texas.

I have written before about WiFi as urbane renewal. In New York, having wireless has been one of the many things that has transformed Bryant Park from a drug den into a tremendous urban space, and I’ve noticed this in other cities as well.

The Times piece talks about how the success of WiFi has sown the seeds of its potential demise with new wireless technologies such as Zigbee, Cable-Free USB, and others that can extend its range and functionality.

Also worth reading this week, Glenn Fleishman talks about how wireless is also transforming where you’ll get your Internet access from, and how cable, phone, and broadcast TV providers are changing how they get Internet dial tone to you.

For those of you that want to know what it is like to live in LA

I used to recommend Steve Martin’s “LA Story” as an accurate picture of what life in LA-LA land was all about: talking freeway signs, the excruciating after-dinner coffee-ordering process, driving 20 feet to visit your neighbor, and “some of these houses are even 20 years old” remark.

But now we have Lazy Monday. For the rest of you that wonder what we all do around here when we are not writing our screenplays, wonder no more. A very funny take. And while I am not usually a fan of the music, it just works. I guess a trip to the local pottery store is in order.