Youtube Prefers HTML5 Video to Flash – But What About All That Old Stuff?

Flash is one of those necessary evils.  It was like Java, reflexively installed onto computers that weren’t really quite up to the task of running it. Just checked, nope, I don’t have Java – and you should not either.

The computer would bog down, act cranky, and even crash when Flash was running.  Flash also has persistent cookies that you had to remember to delete.  Some people would have those cookies for years.  Security is a bear.

But there is one more nail is in Flash Player’s coffin.  Youtube is now preferring HTML5 over Flash when you watch videos there.

Why is that important?

More and more Flash had been the target of people wanting to hijack passwords, insert viruses, and track your movements with those persistent cookies.  Adobe had put more and more patches into it and it became a joke.  Start the computer, patch Flash, restart the computer and do your work – every single day. 

Worse, some people that I supported would simply tell the update check to go away and never come back.

You are getting closer to the day you can do that for good. Many of us already have.

My Linux computer, currently Xubuntu, is not even supported on current Flash Player, and I did an uninstall of it a couple weeks back.  I didn’t see the value of keeping an old piece of software on something that was running well without it and I almost never used.

My windows computer will get the same treatment.

About the only thing I ever do with Flash is to watch videos on Youtube.  The few games that I have kept over the years will get deleted.

That’s about the only problem that I see with this.  Videos can be streamed using “native tools” but the content that was created in Flash will simply go away.  Quite a lot has been created in Flash over the years, even a few Broadcast TV Programs, and many commercials as well.

After all, when was the last time you played a video tape?  Beta?  VHS?  Vinyl Records?

That is the kind of problem that Librarians have.  Content on a platform that is unsupported.  Music on Cylinder Beeswax Records from the Edison era.  78 RPM records.  Heck, I even have a few 45s floating around here.  Silly looking 7 inch donuts.

For most of us, it’s simply easier to find the track elsewhere and save it on something new.  But for librarians, especially archival libraries, they have to worry about that sort of thing every day.

Anyone still have and use a zip disc?  Nope?  Didn’t think so!

So the net result to you is that if you are running one of the four major browsers in one of the top four major operating systems on the desktop/laptop you’re fine.  Just make sure your browser is up to date.  Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Opera all work with HTML5.

See, that’s easy!

The iPhone and Android based phones will typically use the Youtube client or the browser will take care of it.

One aside though, with Android, it’s usually recommended that you do not use the base browser and go out and grab either Firefox or Chrome.  The reason is that if you are on an older version of Android, Google is not going to support the old “Browser” browser.

So it’s just safer that way.  Listen to big brother even if it is a bother.

Ok?

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How Do You Protect Your IPhone From Wirelurker When They Don’t Know What It Does?

I’m reading the tech news.  In reality I read it about every day and far too much of it is out there.  Your mind may haze up from time to time, and that’s normal.

There’s a new virus out there that they’re calling “Wirelurker”.  The big problem is with this one is that they are still figuring out how it works and what it does.

The group that discovered the virus, Palo Alto Networks, let out a rather gloomy press release.  Basically, it said that you’re probably already infected and even if you didn’t get infected it will get you anyway through use of chargers or your Mac.

Huh?

Apparently it started as a rather fringe infection vector.  People who Jailbreak-ed their iPhones and connected up to a third party app store called Maiyadi, in China got it first.

Chinese third party software.  Probably not the safest out there.

What it did was to rewrite the apps that ran on the iPhone and add code to it that caused the virus to replicate and move onto the next victim.

So someone stepped out of the Walled Garden that Apple made and they got caught, end of problem, right?

Nope.

It infected their Macs, and moved on.  It also infected any other iOS devices plugged into the machines such as iPads and iPod Touch.

The recommendations are one of the broadest that I have ever seen for avoiding this virus.

This is the first time I saw a third party app store used as an illustration of a safer app store.  They recommend that if you do use third party apps, make sure it is the Cydia app store and only go to trustworthy sources.  Problem there is that you never really know since those third party app stores aren’t really looking into the source code like Apple does.

They say don’t even plug it into a charger that you don’t know about and don’t use any non approved sources.  Since the virus is so stealthy you won’t know that your charger is infected until later – but basically that lets the rest of the windows world in.

There’s a vulnerability with the USB devices that you have in your house.  More accurately the USB devices you will buy to replace the ones you have now.  Plugs, cables, and chargers.  It can be rigged to push a virus into whatever it is connected with.  While this particular threat hasn’t been seen in the wild, yet, give it time.  Yes, it’s doom and gloom and fear mongering, but give it time.

Thinking about a new charger?  Better make sure that you spend the extra money and get it from a recognized source. 

If the whole charger thing is questionable, their stated concern is that if you have an infected iPhone on your network, the virus will walk back to the next phone that is connected to the network via email servers and the like. 

Once it is in your phone, it can theoretically grab your address book and spam your contacts thereby sharing the fun.  This is one of the first “traditional” viruses to hit the iPhone platform.

The Apple Myth of No Viruses Here was built because they have the reputation of “vetting” or looking over and analyzing the software that sits on their own app stores.  If you remain in the Walled Garden, all will be well.  That is the theory and for the most part, up until now, it works.  However since the infection vector is from outside of the walled garden and you have to go outside the garden to update or charge the phone, you will have a vulnerability.

The solution will be that Macs and iOS devices will need to run a virus scanner.  Once the virus definitions are kept up to date, this will clean out the problem. 

If it sounds familiar, welcome to the Windows world. 

Once the signature to the virus is found, it will get out to the Windows based virus scanners and that should clear it up as well.

But it isn’t there yet, so stay tuned.

Bottom line is that if you have an iOS device, make sure you stick with Apple’s App Store and stay tuned.

So how DO you know when your phone is obsolete?

I have a friend who visits about once a year.  I have a standing request that he brings his “Daily Driver” computer with him when he comes.

He calls it a tune up.  What I generally do is go through the machine, run a virus scan, uninstall spyware, and send him on his way.  It runs much faster because I’ve cleaned out the junk.

He’s also been using that machine for longer than even I have expected.  He’s gotten newer machines, but he keeps coming back to that beast of a 17 inch “laptop” because I’m able to keep it going.

Eventually, he’ll have to stop using it, and then it will have a second life as either a table leveler, something to hold a shelf down in the linen closet, or I’ll put Linux on it and it will be good for another 5 years of use.

I’m leaning toward Linux, but that is because I actually do like using the environment.

Computers have a longer life than the manufacturers want you to believe because they exist to make money by selling you new.  It’s Planned Obsolescence.

With a phone, it appears much more clear cut.  Especially with a smartphone, things have a shelf life.  The vendor puts out a new model, it can do more, but does it really warrant you getting a new one?

Again like with my friends beast of a laptop, to me, it appears that it is software driving the decision.

There are two schools here.  Apple and Android.  Not looking at this as a fanboy of either set up, I have a preference for Android because I can do things with it like use the phone as a multimedia computer much easier than I can with iOS.  I look at it as a use case to form a decision as to which works best for me.

Your Mileage May Vary.

With Apple, there is a clear end of life with their phones.  When you can no longer run their current operating system, it is time to consider moving on.  Apple has always done this with their computers as well.  For a while their PowerPC computers were supposed to be the best thing out there.  Then they came out with Intel based computers that made their old computers look horrible and they stopped supporting them after one more upgrade.

My iPhone is an old 3GS.  It will still make calls, but as a computer, Apple is actively pushing it away.  I have software that ran on it until I updated it, then all the sudden the older software is gone, and the newer one doesn’t work because I don’t have the current operating system.  One after another app is going away and eventually that will be the end of it.

Of course if you have the latest iPhone 6, it’s obsolete when you drop it on the ground on the first day it’s out because you just broke the screen.


Android is a different animal.

Android support varies with the company that made the phone or tablet.  Typically, an Android phone will get updates within the operating system version that it was bought with.  After that you are on your own.

My tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, got updates until the current OS came out.  That doesn’t mean that the tablet is unusable, it merely means that it will get more behind the times as I run into the same problem that my old iPhone had.  Software won’t be written for it.

There is another problem with the older versions of Android.  The browser that shipped with every version of Android except the current one has a rather nasty bug in it.  The short of it is that if you have an older Android device, do not use the default browser.  Disable that browser, and install another.  I did that at the start and I use Firefox which is the suggestion that is made by most security groups.

Why is that a problem?  Because if you don’t have a current device that runs the current Operating System, you aren’t going to get an update and you are on your own.  That means you have just hit the wall with using that phone, it’s now obsolete – if you want to be secure.

It all seems a bit alarmist, but considering how many people use their phones and tablets as their main computing devices these days, it really does pay to be aware of what that device is capable of doing.  It is a computer and they do need to be kept up to date.  But when you can’t do that any more, you have to be aware what not being up to date can mean.

The Trainer Got Trained

I recently had the chance to sit in on a class.  If it is computer related, my own training kicks in and I quickly get things done and have the luxury of watching other people manage through things at their own paces.

I’m the one that trains the trainers when it comes to most computer software.  I’ve been lucky enough to have the experience of working with people of all levels but mostly the people I would work with in Corporate Education had a certain “floor” of knowledge.  

The test I ask is “How do you play a game of solitaire on this computer?”.   A bit misleading, but the idea is you have to know first how to turn the thing on, then find your way into the computer, then find the program. 

If you can play a complete game without a lot of trouble, you probably are able to be trained. 

Mind you, now people are playing solitaire on a tablet, iPad, Phone, or Android Tablet.

Different story, we’re talking about a “computer”.  Maybe call those a Tablet vs a PC…

Being in a general audience class I was wondering why for 8 people there were three volunteers and one teacher, but I saw quickly why.

Some of you folks simply have forgotten how to use a computer.

We all surf, if you’re reading this, you are surfing.  Some do it on that generic Tablet.  But those tablets simply fall short when you are working with what they call a “Data Driven” website.

If you have to type in “stuff”, use a PC.   If you just occasionally click, a tablet is fine.

This was a professional website designed to do some very specific job search exercises.

We had people in the group who didn’t think they would need to save their user ID.   Others that didn’t understand that they were already inside of a browser on some distant website.

I guess they didn’t play solitaire on the PC any more.

Having had to train people on software I wrote holding Executive Director’s Titles as well as a clerk in Accounts Payable on more than one occasion, being exposed to someone who managed to become “over 40” and not know how to use a computer was an education for me. 

Being a Webmaster, you have a choice.  Make it work for the PC or make it work for the Tablets or Phones.  Those second websites being Mobile, it presents a host of other challenges.  Since most people are typically a bit lazy, they will to the “80/20” rule, make it work on the PC, then come back for the Mobile site for the Tablet/Phone later.

Hopefully they will come back later.  It’s not always granted.  After all, those Tablets have a real browser now, don’t they?  Can’t they just use the “real website”?

My website/blog is looked at 88 percent of the time on a PC, the rest are on some sort of a Mobile device.  I’ll put my time on making sure it looks readable on the PC/Mac/Linux/FreeBSD…

You get the picture.

But you folks on the iPad/iPhone/Android Tablet/Android Phone… If it looks weird, that may explain things.

Now you know why mobile shopping sites look so strange.  It’s a matter of effort, and just don’t get me started on the mobile Wikipedia site.  Yuck.

So if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed when you are trying to get some work done online, if that whole concept of a Mac or a PC is too much for you, there are some really basic things to try to get comfortable with it all.

First, play a game.  Doesn’t have to be a card game, but they’re good for this purpose.  They teach you how to actually use a mouse.   I suggest on Windows Spider Solitaire using one deck.  It’s dead simple and real good at that drag and drop stuff.  I know that the Mac has a couple good games like that since I have them installed on my own Mac. 

Second, use a laptop or a desktop.  Put the tablet aside.  Actually train yourself on how to use it again, call it a refresher, but your boss will appreciate it.  They may even remember that your skills got better next time Layoffs come around.

Third, you need to know how to do some basic office “stuff”.  Write a basic letter with a couple different fonts.  Bold, font size change, paragraph indenting.  Basic stuff.  Print it out to your printer.   Do the same with a spreadsheet.  Enter a column of numbers and calculate the sum.  Change the colors, make it pretty.  Print it out to your printer.

No, I’m not fond of wasting paper, but if you can do all the above, you can find your printer, you can do basic office operations and you have gone from being passed over for that entry level job to being qualified.

But no matter what, set the tablet aside.  The websites aren’t there yet… yet.  Unless you work at Apple of course and most people don’t.

Fourth and most importantly, open your mind to knowledge.   Once that closes up, you’re stuffed.  After all, while playing Angry Birds may be fun, it won’t put food on your table, and what you “learn” in flinging cartoon birds at things won’t work when you have to post things to your General Ledger.

Your Software Is Secure – Or Is It?

There’s a quote out there that goes:

If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

That’s directly applicable to any bit of “Free” software you use.  If there’s an ad being shown, if it asks you to install a different browser or tool bar, if there’s an offer to download 10 free MP3s – You Are The Product.

Fair enough.

There are exceptions to that rule.  There are a lot of excellent pieces of software out there that are free with no strings attached.  No phone home tricks, no advertising, and no other gotchas.   Those typically are called “GPL” or “GNU Software” or “FOSS“.  I do most of what I do on Windows, however off that windows machine, I live in that FOSS world of Linux.  If I want a spreadsheet, I merely download Libre Office and I’m happily counting away my beans.

I guess the fact that there is no support network provided with most of that kind of software means I’m still the product but I’ll ignore that.

Once you leave that world of Windows or Mac OSX where you pay and expect complete discretion (and you would be wrong), or Linux where the power of Open Source means you have thousands of eyes looking at the software and putting out a warning that your operating system might be spying on you (Ubuntu), it gets a bit questionable.

The assumption is that with your shiny iPad or iPhone, Apple is looking into that for you.   It’s not completely clear that that is true, and rumor has it that it isn’t.

On the other hand, Android does warn you when your phone or tablet is being asked to sign away your information.   You can still allow it, but it does warn you.   The idea is that the user is expected to be an educated Android user and actually stop and look at the warnings.   On the other hand, when is the last time you took the time to read an EULA (End User License Agreement)

Exactly, even I just skim them.   If it says it’s GPL, I assume it’s OK, otherwise, you may get one  of those programs that says that if you send an email to a specific address, you “win” 1000 dollars US.   Yes, that happened, once, and it took five years for anyone to find it and collect!

The most egregious use of the person being the product lately is the Jay Z app called “Magna Carta”.  Download and install the app and you get to join in and help to promote his CD of his latest “songs”.

Great, if you like that sort of thing.  On the other hand people did start to read what the app wanted to do to your Android phone.   It basically demanded full control, including your personal details, it wanted to start at start up time, and demanded access to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  The assumption is that it was going to go out and put postings to those accounts in your name saying how much you were enjoying his “songs”.

Rap.  Bleah.  But he’s making my point for me.   It does not say that Jay Z is doing something with all that information, it merely says that the software has access to it.  He is using people as marketing tools to build the social buzz on Facebook and Twitter.  He may never use any of it, and that access may not ever be used, but it begs the question:

Is that in your benefit?
 
When you go to your app store, look around and ask yourself do you really need it?   That app will probably slow your phone or tablet down whether it is on the iPhone or a shiny new Android Tablet because it will want to start up when you turn the thing on.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want to know who you called today, and forever.

Is that in your benefit?

That app may want access to whatever is running at any given moment.

Is that in your benefit?

The answer to all of that is no. 

Especially that last one.  If you use a smartphone to do your banking, your banking details are POTENTIALLY exposed to any app that is running at that time.   Want to share your bank account information with me?  I didn’t think so, but would you with an app developer?  That answer should still be no.

The best thing you can do with that phone is to make calls with it and keep it clean of unneeded software.  That includes free or paid apps.  There’s too much risk these days.

Sorry to bring bad news but there are some questionable people out there.

Beginning of the end for Flash?

Steve Jobs famously would not allow Flash on his “iDevices” like the iPhone and the iPad.  It used to be a major annoyance.  It slowly became less important as newer technologies replaced it like HTML5 which does not require messy solutions like extra software.

You know, Plugins?

Flash has just been removed for Android.  Today, it no longer shows up on the Google Play store.   There is something called “Open Flash” that promises that it will play flash files on your tablet.

That means that effectively Flash is dead on phones and on tablets.  That’s important because many people really could get away with only ever using a tablet to do their normal computing.

I found myself wondering whether it was a big deal or not.  I reached down and grabbed my tablet, swiped to unlock, then did a little digging.   It turns out that I never bothered to install Flash on the tablet.

At all.

Flash is on my Windows machines.   Flash is on my ancient hand me down Mac in the back room that is gathering dust.  I went through the painful install procedure to get Flash on my Linux machine. 

It’s just not on the tablet or the phones.

I guess it’s not going to make the transition to the “Post PC World”.  It’s always been a minor annoyance on Windows, demanding that it be installed if you go to Youtube to watch a video like the one below of a Golden Retriever in China guarding his owner’s bike from being stolen. 

Totally safe for work, by the way.

So you can consider that as a test, I won’t tell the boss.

Actually it will be nice to not have Flash on my Windows computers.   Flash is constantly demanding to be updated, almost as frequently as Adobe’s other software, the PDF readers are.  It’s at least once a week I get a notice telling me that there was yet another exploit that is being plugged by this particular update so please don’t uninstall the software because we really do want you to use it.  

Now if we could only get Java to actually install correctly on an update, we might have a more pleasant experience.   I just can’t seem to remember why I even keep Java on my machines…

A Little Simple Security Makes an Android Go Further

Android is a strange beast.  

It’s produced by Google, an advertising company, so you know that has it’s own pluses and minuses. 

It’s widely used, and widely rejected since many people get their first experience with Android, are confused and send it back for something like their kid is using. 

It is more configurable than anything Apple produces out of the box for the most part.  My phone announces that “You’ve Got Post!” by Joanna Lumley whenever my Yahoo email account gets something.  Can’t do that without jumping through hoops and installing special software to do that on an iPhone.

It has about the same amount of free software as you would find on an iPad or iPhone.  Plus or Minus.  Roughly.

This is just my personal experience.  I have both Android and iOS here.  I’m currently listening to a Funk and RnB channel on an Android tablet using TuneIn, and that is available on your iPhone or iPad too.  Highly recommended.  In fact I was setting up a Linux Server and wishing TuneIn was there.

It’s that new software thing that can be a wrinkle.  With anything with that half eaten Apple logo on the back running iOS, you have one place to get your software, iTunes.  Your software has been analyzed and is therefore expected to be safe from snoops and trojans and viruses.   Although it isn’t warranted to be so, it is a pleasant little walled garden that has few of those weeds.

On the other hand, Android is more like a Nature Preserve.  You can install software pretty much from anywhere you like with a few clicks, you can unlock the device, “root” the device to gain full and complete control like a Mad Scientist (Boo!) and generally run wild.  Think “Jailbreaking” on iOS.

I will say that when I had Jailbroke my iPhone, shortly thereafter I installed an app that grabbed hold of the phone and began to do wonderful things for me like serve out spam.  It’s unlocked but no longer jailbroke.

Every one of my Android devices are rooted.  It gives me complete control and allows me to use a program called Titanium Backup to completely back every last bit of that device up to a chip.  In fact I spent last night upgrading my tablet in order to have the latest software because it was nagging me to do so.

Am I on that proverbial Tightrope without a Net?  Why hasn’t my tablet become a server for Russian Marital Aids?

I am not completely sure but I do practice some very basic security measures.  Those Security Measures are basic and form my safety net.

  • I have a scanner on the thing called “Lookout Security“.  It will even tell me where the machine is if lost and completely lock it down if stolen.  There are others, such as Sophos Mobile Security.  Check them both out and see which one is for you.

  • I only install software from the Google Play store.  Think iTunes, but it is all web based.  There’s a little shopping bag icon with a couple of abstract triangles that you tap.  Once launched, there goes a half hour as I’m looking for new “toys” and shiny objects to play with.  Amazon also has its own software library.  I’m avoiding that one since there are problems with changing devices using Amazon.

  • I always, let me repeat this, ALWAYS check the reviews on the app.  If there are few reviews or the reviews are all positive I skip the app.  Here is a place it is best to step back and let “the other guy” take the bullet for you by testing the software out first. 

Like I said, Basic.  You can use a tablet just like your laptop, many do.  It just takes a little forethought to make sure that you’re doing so safely.  When you’re through you can relax, go play, and have a bit of fun with these things and not fret.  After all, making your life easier so you can have fun is what they’re all about.