Weekly News Roundup (4 October 2009)
Welcome to another, slightly later than usual, WNR. Time to do a PSA, or public service announcement. With Microsoft revealing its new free anti-virus software, there’s now now reason, none at all, why you should not have security software on your PC (that’s firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware). Just with free anti-virus software, there are now at least 6 well known free software to choose from. With malware, at least passive protection, then you can’t really do worse than scanning your computer monthly using the full scan function of Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, another free software. And as for firewall, then ZoneAlarm Basic will offer you basic protection that’s better than the built in Windows Firewall. And with a little bit of discipline in terms of updating your operating system/browser with the latest patches, and not clicking on every link you find in emails and on website, then there’s a decent chance that your computer will remain malware free. Decent, but not guaranteed of course, which is why if you have the money, then investing in a security suite like Norton or Kaspersky Internet Security is a good idea, especially considering licenses often now come in 3’s and so you can protect all the computers in your home for a low yearly subscription fee.
Next week’s PSA: backups – do you have a system and if not, why not? Let’s move onto the news.
In copyright news, The Pirate Bay appeal is about to begin, but there has been some shuffling of the judges in the case. Judges, or just clerks, I’m not quite sure – the Swedish legal system is a bit different to that of the US or Australia. But a judge, or a clerk, has been removed due to bias, but the request for removal came from the people suing TPB, not from TPB.
This leads me to believe that this might not be done to ensure the result cannot be challenged, as the RIAA/MPAA claims, but rather that the person’s removal may in fact hurt the TPB. The bias in question was related to this person owning shares in Spotify, which has content distribution deals with the RIAA. Does this mean the person would benefit from TPB not existing? Possibly, as Spotify aims to offer what TPB offers illegally. However, it also might mean this person has the required technical knowledge to understand the major issues behind the case, and that in turn might hurt the copyright holder’s case more. I was once told that this type of case is often won or lost on the ability of the judge(s) to understand the technical implications of their decisions, and that judges that do not come from a technical background (that is, most of them) will usually rule in favour of the industry group. It’s understandable, as if the first thing you think of when someone says “torrent” is rain, then you would also be more likely side with major Hollywood studios as opposed to a bunch of kids who set up this website about pirate ships.
Which is precisely why there should be more education and more public lobbying of the issues, which has generally been one sided in favour of the copyright holders. The Swedish Pirate Party’s fantastic results in the European Parliament elections shows that this is an issue that people care about and politicians and judges should realise that there are two sides to this issue, and is not a case good versus evil as portrayed by the copyright lobby. Which is good news then that Pirate Party Australia has managed to sign up enough members to contest the next Federal election, and I suspect they will do rather well in the polls, since there has been a lot of Internet related issues that have become major issues, such as the government’s ridiculous pursuit of a national censorship system, or the much needed national broadband network. And the piracy issue, particular with the current high profile copyright court cases, and the government’s hints at moving towards a three-strikes system, should ensure a lot of protest votes go the way of the PPA.
Speaking of high profile Australian copyright court cases, it will start next week but the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) has dropped another key part of their case against iiNet. Previously, they had dropped the “conversion” charge, as they could not prove that iiNet was the main copyright infringer. Now, they’ve dropped the part of the case which say that iiNet engaged in primary acts of infringement, based on the fact that iiNet caches content for its subscribers. Of course, all ISPs cache content, that’s how ISPs work, and if an ISP can be found guilty this way, then all of them need to be shutdown immediately as they’ve all helped to plan terrorist attacks, share child pornography, commit acts of fraud and every other bad thing that has gone through their cache. The fact that charges are being dropped this late into the preparation phase, suggest that the original charges were far too ambitious, and lacked understanding of even some basic facts like how ISPs work. Were they perhaps too ambitious deliberately to scare iiNet into submission, into a settlement, not expecting iiNet to be so determined to fight the charges out in court? Who know.
Now, whenever there’s a clever new way to fight piracy, no matter whether it will work or not, I’ll report it here. The latest is interesting, and it’s actually good for consumers, as if the plan works, you’ll be able to download legal MP3s for free, and all it will take is a moment of your time. The new idea, well not exactly new, is ad-supported MP3s. The plans is that after the user views a short video ad, they will then be able to download the DRM-free MP3s to keep. Sounds pretty good to me, although it’s a US only thing apparently so I can’t take advantage of it. But if it sounds too good to be true, then it might just be that. The major problem I can see immediately is, well, how will the video ads actually manage to pay for the MP3s, each of them costing at least $0.50 each – a single view of a video ad, unless the user clicks on it, is going to generate a lot less than 50 cents, probably a lot less than 5 cents. But if the ads do manage to pay for the music, then it becomes a good business model and will go a long way towards killing piracy, much more than a new DRM scheme or more lawsuits. Let’s hope my math is wrong and that the system does work, because I don’t people will mind sitting through an ad or two if it means free stuff.
Let’s move onto high definition news, the latest rumour is that Apple will finally add Blu-ray support to its iMac range, despite Steve Jobs calling Blu-ray ‘a bag of hurt’, referring to the messy and expensive licensing process and the lack of user penetration. Both problems have been greatly reduced thanks to lower and simpler licensing schemes, and with current market share double that of when Mr Jobs spoke.
But as it is, it’s just a rumour for now, and I haven’t really heard enough from the right sources to think that this is a certainty, not like with the PS3 Slim and Xbox 360 price cut rumours. Will Apple’s support help Blu-ray? Of course it will. Will it be a major help, probably not. Why? Well, Blu-ray has been available on Windows systems from day one, and despite there being a lot more Windows systems than Macs, it has been of almost no help to the format, and penetration of Blu-ray on PCs remain quite low. Still, with Apple’s well known and respected ability for working with HD video, having Blu-ray support is almost a necessity these days, rather than a luxury, although it remains to be seen whether hardware acceleration will be enabled in software (the Nvidia GPUs that iMacs use should support at least H.264 acceleration for Blu-ray playback).
One rumour about Apple’s reluctance towards Blu-ray is that its current Apple TV devices would be hurt by Blu-ray’s success, since Apple would prefer everyone to be buying movies through iTunes, as opposed to on disc. I don’t know if I believe this, as I think Apple’s reluctance is more to do with how people use Macs, and whether Apple thinks people will use it as a Blu-ray player, when they take into account the number of people who currently use it as a DVD player.
But it is true that technologies like iTunes are in some ways competing with Blu-ray for the home video market share. But even within downloads, there’s great competition from the way it is being offered. The latest thing here in Australia is that our major cable/satellite subscription TV provider, Foxtel, has just announced that they will offer 400 hours of downloadable content for free per month for all subscribers. It’s technically just allowing subscribers to download for free the content they’ve already paid for and with subscribers using the IQ set-top-box, content that they already have the ability to record and keep. But with a billing system already in place, and an user base that is already willing to fork out cash for TV shows and movies, it will be interesting to see if Foxtel extends this download service to premium content like the latest episodes available straight after their showing in the US – with the payment being handled through the monthly bill. Foxtel already does this with on-demand HD movies through their set-top-box, so it’s not a huge step to extend this to TV and movie downloads on the PC.
Everyone knows about the infamous Xbox 360 RRoD problem, but I wonder if the PS3’s “no disc reading” problem might also get some unwanted spotlight in the near future. The problem I describe is one that I have personally experienced and posted about on this blog, and it seems to be still happening with the latest firmware updates.
I have no doubt that this problem is far less widespread than the RRoD problem, but there are still a large group of people who have suffered from it, and it seems to occur after every firmware update. I would guess that less than 1% of PS3s are affected, possibly much less than this, so it’s no surprise that some people feel the problem doesn’t exist because it has never happened to them. But it has happened, I can confirm from personal experience, with the people who posted comments on the blog, from users posting about their problem on the official PS3 forum and elsewhere, and so the problem is not imaginary. The worst part is that Sony charges $150 per repair of this problem out of warranty (mine was in warranty at the time), and if it is the firmware update process that somehow causes this to occur (and the PS3 firmwares themselves are not really known for their bug free nature), then I wonder if charging users this large amount is the right thing to do. And this problem pretty much only started showing up after the 2.40 firmware update, so something must have changed then that causes this problem to appear, but it’s all just speculation as Sony has refused to release any information in regards to this issue. And with the wholesale hardware changes in the PS3 Slim, I don’t think this will be an issue for the Slim, so that’s one reason to upgrade your old PS3s to the new one, even if the styling isn’t to my taste (I still like the old one better, hmmm, glossy).
Okie dokie, that’s itie for this weekie. More next week, so until then …