It's hard to say these days

The Death Knell for Forbes’ Credibility

clock May 12, 2011 15:59 by author Tom

I warn you right now my tone might be harsher than I’d prefer here.  I tried to tone it down (even waiting several hours after writing this to post it) but the whole thing really annoyed me.  So I apologize in advance for the incivility. 

That said this Forbes article is misleading or just plain wrong in just about every paragraph.  Here are a few examples of what I mean…

Chromebooks are built to run nothing but a browser–unless they’re jailbroken, no executable files can be installed, neither antivirus software, nor the malicious software it’s meant to protect against. And if that web-only strategy catches on–still a big if, admittedly–it could spell real trouble for the antivirus companies like McAfee, Symantec, Kaspersky and Trend Micro.

This really isn’t true.  There’s a whole SDK dedicated to writing native applications.  I think Google has done everything they can to secure those apps with their double sandbox design.  But to say “no executable files can be installed” is inaccurate. 

Charlie Miller, a researcher for Independent Security Evaluators who has made a career out of disproving Apple’s security claims, has owned a Chromebook since February, when the machines were sent as freebies to winners of the Pwn2Own hacking competition in Vancouver. He hasn’t dug deeply into the device’s security, but he says the Web-only security model works in theory. While a hacker might exploit bugs in the Chrome browser to run code on a user’s machine, that exploit would only allow the attacker for a single session, and would disappear the moment the browser closed. “The way you stay persistent [as a hacker] is by installing software,” says Miller. “This is designed not to allow any persistence. You turn it off and on and you’re good to go.”

This is Stage One thinking at its worst.  Yes, a hacker could only gain access to the Chromebook for one session.   But the whole point of “hacking” (as defined in this context) is to access or cause damage to the user’s data.  So gaining access to the Chromebook for more than one session is irrelevant.  A virus targeting a Chromebook would be looking to harvest credentials from the user and then access their files off Google’s cloud. 

So, in theory, all a malignant program would have to do is redirect the browser to a page that makes it appear the user has been logged out.  The user enters their credentials and the harvesting program can do whatever damage it wants to the files in the cloud.   In that way it actually presents more of a security threat because you can’t stop it by turning off your own computer (as you could with a traditional virus).

The Chromebook contributes to that larger post-PC problem McAfee and its ilk, [Perimeter E-Security’s Andrew Jaquith] argues.  Jaquith points to data from Gartner Research that predicts sales of 1.4 billion post-PC devices (a category that he construes as including the Chromebook) by 2015 compared with 540 million traditional PCs. “Very few of these will need AV. That’s terrible news for security vendors because three-quarters of the market for their traditional products is about to go away,” says Jaquith. “That’s what happens when you build security in, instead of relying on the market to bolt it on. It’s great for customers, and terrible for the security aftermarket.”

Two things here.  First the article quotes a security person whose company is shifting their focus to these post PC Devices (see here).  That’s smart of his company but it gives him a bias.  Because his company directly competes with McAfee and their focus on post-PC devices is a strategic advantage.   So drawing focus to them makes his company look better over their competitors.

(I’ve already posted on how Analysts are almost always wrong with these types of numbers so I’ll just direct you to that post in regards to the Gartner claim)

The second thing is the claim that post-PC devices won’t require any security software.  That really isn’t provable.  Apple has had few to no security breaches because they lock down things so extensively.  But we don’t know how many Android breaches are out there because people can side-load applications.  Meaning there might be programs compromising Android phones right now that Google isn’t aware of.   Google has had security breaches in its own Marketplace so I think it’s safe to assume there are malignant side-loaded apps out there. 

In the end we really don’t know what the need for Anti Virus software will be in a post-PC era (not that we are anywhere close to being in a post-PC era).  Which is why this article annoyed me so much.  It is far too early to be writing off security for these post-PC devices.  Telling people they “shouldn’t worry about it” is downright irresponsible and could be disastrous in the future. 

Quick Post on Chromebooks for Education

clock May 11, 2011 17:10 by author Tom

So Google announced Chomebooks for Education which costs $20 a month (Thank you TechCrunch for rushing a paragraph long article out for me to quote)…

ChromeBooks, centralized, almost entirely cloud-based machines by Google, will be available for students and schools at $20/per month/per user, enabling full updates, central login controls, and a central administrator panel to handle users and control access.

I don’t have a lot of time to make this post.  But I’m already seeing “Wow, Google just made it possible for every child to have a notebook” tweets so I wanted to address the reality as someone who is responsible for a school.   To put this in perspective I’m going to list the costs for our most recent “student computer” configuration.  This configuration has been deployed to our Los Angeles location since September of 2010 and has been running (reasonably) flawlessly since then. 

Here are the costs to maintain that configuration over 4 years (the life of the Asus Eee PC we are using)


Netbook: $331.99

(We actually used the Asus Desktops but I'm trying to compare Apples to Apples here so I quoted the Eee PC 1015PEM 10.1" Netbook)

Anti-Virus: $52.36

Deep Freeze: $24

Office 2010: $99.95

Internet Filter: $26

Memeo Connect: $24


Grand Total: $11.64 per Month


So as you can see the Chomebook would almost double our cost per month while severely limiting us because it can’t run Windows programs (which most educational software still is). 

Now, in fairness, the cloud portion of the above configuration is made possible by Google generously providing free access to Google Docs and GMail.  Because of that we can use Memeo Connect and give the kids cloud access to their files.   So kudos to Google for that. 

But that’s exactly what makes Google Chromebooks unattractive.  With the above I can actually deploy Windows 7 netbooks.  Netbooks that can run all the kids games, do desktop publishing (there’s no Google Docs equivalent to Publisher),  run one of the existing web filtering programs and still do everything a Chromebook can (since it has Chrome loaded as its default browser).

Beyond that we use Faronics Deep Freeze which is a program that restores the default configuration on every boot.  So even Google’s security checks aren’t an advantage over this configuration.   And since the updates run automatically on Sunday morning (the computer unfreezes so changes  can be made) the auto-update is taken care of as well. 

Don’t get me wrong.  It isn’t that I don’t applaud Google for trying.  But this isn’t a game changer by any measure.  In fact, as I understand it right now, it isn’t even usable for schools. 

Addendum: For the record my point isn't to dump on Google.  If I had more time I'd point out some things Google could have done and could still do to make the Chromebook a viable option (and I'll definitely post that in the next couple days so stay tuned).  I just wanted to get something out there quickly to do my small part to redirect the "Google saves schools" meme I saw developing.  

2nd Addendum: From Danny Sullivan...


Google says there’s a three year subscription required. Hardware will be upgraded at the end of the three years, if people want to continue on the plans.


So with my current plan we'd pay about $1,676 for hardware and software over a 12 year period. With Google Chromebook for Education it would be $2,880. That's clearly an unfair comparison in many ways (most notably that we'd have newer computers for a few years of that if we went with Google). But it doesn't change the reality.  If I were to switch tomorrow it would cost that much more.  

Nixon, Arrington and the Amazing Human Brain

clock May 8, 2011 15:50 by author Tom

Yesterday Michael Arrington of TechCrunch responded to criticism over his investing in startups.  His point is basically that people have all kinds of biases and since he’s disclosing his it shouldn’t be an issue.  I made a similar point here so I agree with that part.  But then he goes a little further…

AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher, the chief whiner about our policy, is married to a Google executive. This is disclosed by her, but I certainly don’t see it as any less of a conflict than when I invest in a startup. And yet she whines. One of her writers, Liz Gannes, is married to a Facebook consultant. She covers the company and its competitors regularly. She discloses it as well, but it isn’t clear whether or not her husband has stock in Facebook. That’s something as a reader I’d like to know. And regardless, it’s a huge conflict of interest. I think someone will think twice before slamming a company and then going to sleep next to an employee of that company. Certain adjectives, for example, might be softened in the hopes of marital harmony.

I see where he’s coming from here.  He feels accused and so he’s pointing out the hypocrisy of his accusers .   But in the juicy personal conflict I think the real point is being missed here.  So to pull it back to that I’d like to tell a very brief story (it’s less than a page long printed out and it’s important so give me some leeway here).


Years ago I took a U.S. History class.  During a discussion of Richard Nixon’s Presidency I made the claim that “he was the President most responsible for the Vietnam war”. 

I didn’t think twice about making this claim because it’s generally accepted that Nixon is the President most associated with the Vietnam war.  But my professor challenged me to back up this claim and I found that I couldn’t.  In fact, when you look at it objectively the opposite is true.  He walked in the door committed to ending the war as quickly as he saw possible (See Addendum Below for more details).

So why is Nixon so closely associated with the War in Vietnam?

I didn’t know at the time but a couple years ago an interesting editorial crossed my path.  During the Nixon administration the “most trusted man in News” was Walter Cronkite.  So revered was Mr. Cronkite that, to this day, he’s held up by many as the prototypical unbiased journalist.  Yet this Washington Post editorial paints a different picture.  Apparently Mr. Cronkite was considered as a Vice Presidential candidate to run against Richard Nixon…

Walter Cronkite could have been vice president of the United States, and that would have both ended the war in Vietnam with some dignity and prevented Watergate from becoming "our long national nightmare."

It's not even a long story. In 1972 I was political director for the presidential campaign of Sen. George McGovern. That July, just as a rather chaotic Democratic National Convention in Miami agreed to make McGovern the party's nominee, I convened a group of top campaign officials to come up with some options for the candidate to consider as his running mate. Armed with a poll showing Walter Cronkite to be the most trusted man in America, I proposed that the senator put forward Walter Cronkite for vice president.

My idea met with instant, and unanimous, disapproval.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being considered for office (though it does show Cronkite had a bias that was pretty widely known).  But here’s the real issue…

Decades later, at a meeting of a corporate board on which they both served, George McGovern mentioned to Walter Cronkite that his name had been proposed as the vice presidential nominee at that stage of the campaign but was rejected because we were certain he would have turned us down. "On the contrary, George," the senator told me Cronkite replied, "I'd have accepted in a minute; anything to help end that dreadful war." At a later board meeting, Cronkite told a larger group that he would gladly have accepted the invitation to run with McGovern.

He would have ACCEPTED THE OFFER!  Walter Cronkite, the most trusted name in news, continued to report on the Nixon administration even though his bias against them was so great that he would have given up his journalism career to run against them in the current election.  In fact, I did a little further digging and found this

Walter Cronkite, May 19, 1971: "Many of us see a clear indication on the part of this administration of a grand conspiracy to destroy the credibility of the press. No one doubts the right of anyone to seek to correct distortion, to right untruths ... but the present campaign, spearheaded by Vice President Agnew and Republican National Chairman Sen. Robert Dole goes beyond that."

So not only did he dislike Nixon’s politics he actively thought the Administration was trying to destroy his credibility.   Could there be a larger bias than considering someone your personal enemy and the enemy of your entire profession?


Given that I’d make two points.

1.  Not only does bias exist in Journalism now but it always has.  The standard people look back to never existed and in fact things have gotten better.  Cronkite never formally disclosed his political affiliations (though the above quote makes it clear IMHO)

2.  As with the Vietnam War the facts are always out there.  If you really think TechCrunch is biased than take their writing with a grain of salt.  When they write about a company that looks interesting take 5 minutes to do a Google search for that company’s competitors.  Then e-mail the TechCrunch link to those competitors and ask them to respond. 

Bottom line: Use your Brain!  There’s no reason to follow any writer’s opinion blindly.  Spend 10 minutes on research and then you won’t have to worry about  bias. 

The Vietnam Addendum

I don’t really want to spend a lot of time arguing the Vietnam war with people (or Richard Nixon who I do think was horrible on a personal level).  But there are some who believe Nixon escalated the war based on faulty assumptions (the same faulty assumptions I had and disproved when challenged by my professor).  These assumptions are…

Cambodia and Laos: Nixon did launch campaigns on these two countries but if you look at interviews from the time his goal was largely to liberate those countries in anticipation of ending the war.  The Nixon administration felt they would stay independent even if South Vietnam fell (which was largely true) so they took it upon themselves to drive the North Vietnamese out before moving to end the war. 

The Bombing of Hanoi: The Nixon administration walked into office thinking the Johnson administration had weakened the American position so much that negotiation would be impossible.  So they devised a plan to use air power as a showing of force.  This limited the use of ground troops (and hence casualties) while weakening North Vietnam by showing the U.S. could strike at their capital. 

In addition to that Nixon took steps from day one to dial down the war…

He pulled back ground troops: Look at the U.S. Casualties by year.  Nixon took office in January of 1969…

1966: 6,143

1967: 11,153

1968: 16,592

1969: 11,616

1970: 6,081

1971: 2,357

He improved relations with Communist China and the USSR: Nixon was the first President to visit both Moscow and Beijing.  Everyone remembers China but people forget that was part of a triangulation strategy to lure the USSR into talks (the idea being the USSR would fear improved relations between the U.S. and China and feel compelled to enter talks).  It worked as Nixon was invited to meet with with a Soviet Premier (Leonid Brezhnev) and flew to Moscow to do so.  All this is important because the early overtures to these breakthroughs limited support to North Vietnam (whose support was largely from the two communist countries)

Is Amazon Manufacturing an iPad2 Killer? Not If They’re Smart…

clock May 3, 2011 13:31 by author Tom

DigiTimes is reporting notebook manufacturer Quanta will build the Amazon LCD Tablet…

Taiwan-based notebook maker Quanta Computer has recently received OEM orders from Amazon for its reported tablet PC and the device will also receive full support from Taiwan-based electrophoretic display (EPD) maker E Ink Holdings (EIH) for supplying touch panel as well as providing its Fringe Field Switching (FFS) technology, according to sources from upstream component makers.

And a lot of people are calling this Amazon’s iPad killer.  Buisness Insider says “Amazon’s iPad Killer Ships This Fall” while compares them on a price level saying “we don’t know any specifics about this tablet yet, we’d bet serious money Amazon will be matching, if not undercutting the price of the iPad 2 from launch

I’ve already said I think a full fledged tablet strategy would be suicide for Amazon.  But I don’t think that’s what Amazon is doing here.  I sincerely doubt this is even an iPad competitor.

One thing we know about the Amazon Tablet is that it has a Fringe Field LCD Display.  The advantages to these displays are…

1.  The increase the viewing angle over normal LCD displays (e.g. you can view them from the side)

2.  The provide more accurate color reproduction

3.  They offer reduced power consumption

4.  They offer improved readability in sunlight

Sounds great right?  You can read it outside, the colors look better, they take less power AND you can sit down with some friends and all watch a movie.  What could possibly be wrong here?

The answer is cost.  This is new technology.  E-Ink (previously PVI) specifically bought the company that manufacturers it (Hydis) so they realize the value in it (and I’m sure they’re charging accordingly).  So how can Amazon afford to manufacturer a tablet with this display and still match every other iPad feature? 

My guess is they can’t. 

Which brings us to what I suspect this actually is: The next generation Kindle.  A media device with less tablet functionality but which is geared towards consuming Amazon’s media offerings.   Probably lacking multi-touch and other fancy features but geared towards book reading, movies and maybe music. 

Again I ask you to read my last post on this issue where I make the point that Amazon has always been a retailer and their goals have always been centered around selling products. 

What the strategy I lay out above allows Amazon to do is provide a simple device to sell digital media WITHOUT threatening the high end tablet manufacturers like Motorola and Samsung.  While at the same time neutralizing the threat posed by the Barnes and Noble Nook. 

So I don’t think Amazon is preparing an iPad killer here.  More like a Nook killer with a little multimedia pizazz for good measure. 

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