In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

Category: software Page 1 of 2

A virtual goodbye

When I switched to the Mac five years ago, I brought Windows along for the ride. VMware Fusion is one of a few pieces of software that allow your Mac to ‘host’ a large number of ‘guest’ operating systems. This virtualization software presents an environment to the guest operating system that seems like a real computer, but it’s entirely constructed of software. After starting VMware fusion for the first time, you need to either download a virtual machine or create your own. In my case, I wanted Windows, so I had to install Windows into its own virtual machine. Once I had done that, I had a great big file on my hard drive called WindowsXP. To run Windows, all I have to do is start VMware Fusion, select WindowsXP, choose ‘Start,’ and watch Windows boot in a window on my Mac. It’s really surreal the first few times.

Getting files in and out of the virtual machine might seem problematic. The computer doesn’t really exist, after all! Happily, it’s not at all difficult. The virtual machine exists on your local network, alongside all of your other hardware so you can connect to any shared resources, including the host computer. When you install the guest operating system, VMware Fusion suggests that you creates a network share to your home folder on the Mac. Do that and you’re golden.

When I started using the Mac, my Windows virtual machine had most of the applications installed that I used on my old Windows system. Over time, I found suitable replacements on the Mac, and I used Windows less and less. Then at work, we moved to Macs even though the core application we used, Adobe FrameMaker, runs only on Windows. We used VMware Fusion for FrameMaker so I created a virtual machine specifically for my use when I worked at home. I used it often and it worked without issue.

I was laid off and no longer use VMware Fusion for work. In fact, the only use I’ve had to the software is to install and play with Windows 8. Not being crazy about Windows 8, to put it politely, VMware Fusion hasn’t seen a lot of use. I’ve downloaded some Linux virtual machines intending on refamiliarizing myself with the operating system, but it’s not a big priority and there’s always something else I want to do more.

Then earlier this week I read that VMware has announced Fusion 6, and the main feature is compatibility with OS X 10.9 Mavericks, the next version of the Mac operating system. So if I want to use Fusion after I upgrade the operating system, I have to upgrade Fusion. Fusion costs $60, or if you have one of the previous two version, the upgrade cost is $50. My first thought was, “$50? I’m not paying that!” It’s funny because that’s often my reaction when new versions of software are announced. Then it quickly occurred to me that my knee-jerk reaction was absolute fact this time. I don’t need Fusion any more. If I want to have a Windows virtual machine ready in case I need one, or if I want to fool around with Linux, I can use VirtualBox, a free open-source virtualization software package. I wouldn’t depend on it for my livelihood, but just for experimenting, it will serve.

Fusion was a must-have piece of software the whole time I had a Mac…until now.

Graphic © 2013 VMware, Inc.

ÜberFAIL: Ubisoft DRM

The Ars Technica article, “Ubisoft’s new DRM solution: you have be online to play,” describes the plan Ubisoft has in the works to curb piracy of its games:

the company’s upcoming “solution” to game piracy is much worse than anything we’ve seen in the past. The gist is simple: every time you want to play your game, it has to phone back to Ubisoft before giving you permission to play. No Internet connection? You’re simply out of luck.

Talk about things going the wrong way. This is another example of your having to get the company’s permission to play the game that you paid for. You did the right thing, and you’re the one who’s inconvenienced.

This article reminds me of another from early this month, called, “EA shuts down 25 game servers, including Madden 09.” Electronic Arts maintains the servers that allow on-line multiplayer use of their games. To encourage players to buy the current versions of their EA games, and cut costs, they’ve decided to eliminate on-line play support for 25 of their games, including Madden 09 and NASCAR 09. So one can presume that from now on, any EA game you buy is going to have a lifespan of a single year, at least as far as on-line gaming goes. And that’s true only if you buy it soon after its release. Wait for it to hit the bargain bins and you may not get any on-line play at all!

Should Ubisoft ever pull something like this, the situation will be far worse. You’ll be unable to play the game at all. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation. I know I’d be pissed, and incredibly frustrated because I walked into it knowing what could happen. No thanks.

Read the small print on the software. Games will tell you in clear language that you require Internet access for activation/on-line play/play, and they’ll also tell you that they reserve the right to shut down the gaming servers any time they feel like it. Then put the box back on the shelf and move on.

Planning for boredom?

WordPress, the software I use to run this place, is open source and has all kinds of plugins available to add functions and features. Do you want to query your readers with a poll? There are multiple plugins to add polling, for example.

I ran across a plugin that stopped me dead. It’s called the Boredom Button. Seriously. The developer describes it this way:

Places the Boredom Button on your wordpress blog, giving your users interesting content from the net.

So you’re going to the time and trouble to set up a blog, and from the very start, you expect to bore your visitors so severely that you feel the need to include a button that will send them elsewhere for entertainment.

If this is the plan, perhaps it’s time for a new plan.

Unintended connections

If you’ve never seen James Burke’s fantastic ten episode 1978 series called Connections, watch it! Watch it soon, watch it now!

One point he stresses in the series is that no inventor has any idea of the consequences of his invention. Do you think the first person to conceptualize the automobile thought it would completely change the structure of our cities and dump enough CO2 into our atmosphere to change the climate? I imagine they’d think you were suffering from brain fever if you suggested it.

Once you have this pointed out, you can see all kinds of devices and products being used in ways that the designer had not envisioned.

Just this week I saw a very clever example of this.

Airlock is a remarkably ingenious piece of software for the Mac. All modern Macs come equipped with Bluetooth. Similarly, second generation and newer iPhones and iPod Touch models have Bluetooth. After installing Airlock, you have it identify your iPhone so it will recognize it from all others. Then, assuming you keep your iPhone somewhere on your person, your Mac will lock itself when you leave your desk, and unlock itself when you return. You don’t have to type your password or press any keys. It just happens.

It sounds too simple, but it works exactly as advertised. Don downloaded it and showed me. Once the application recognizes your iPhone, it simply locks the computer when your iPhone moves out of range (or beyond a configurable distance) and unlocks the computer when your iPhone comes back.

Bluetooth was designed as wireless means to allow electronic devices to exchange information over short distances. The cordless headset you use with your mobile phone probably uses Bluetooth. Your cordless mouse and keyboard probably use Bluetooth as well.

But to use Bluetooth to lock a computer when the user’s phone moves out of range is a very clever use of existing tools … and certainly not something the Bluetooth designers thought of at the time!

I’d already have Airlock if I could use it. But alas, I cannot. I don’t have a Mac at work, and my iPod Touch is a first-generation model without Bluetooth. Denied! Too bad … as the price is certainly reasonable. They’re asking just $7.77 and also have a demo that will work for three hours at a time allowing you to run it through its paces.

Mess effect

BioWare technical producer Derek French describes the copy protection used in the Windows version of their game, Mass Effect:

Mass Effect uses SecuROM and requires an online activation for the first time that you play it. Each copy of Mass Effect comes with a CD Key which is used for this activation and for registration here at the BioWare Community. Mass Effect does not require the DVD to be in the drive in order to play, it is only for installation.

After the first activation, SecuROM requires that it re-check with the server within ten days (in case the CD Key has become public/warez’d and gets banned). Just so that the 10 day thing doesn’t become abrupt, SecuROM tries its first re-check with 5 days remaining in the 10 day window. If it can’t contact the server before the 10 days are up, nothing bad happens and the game still runs. After 10 days a re-check is required before the game can run.

You know what? No. A thousand times, no. Current activation schemes are bad enough in that I have to ask permission to use the product I purchased when I install it. Mass Effect would require I seek this permission every ten days. So what happens if I often use a laptop where there is no open WiFi connection available? In some circumstances, I’d be out of luck.

So, no. I don’t deny software makers are directly affected by people copying their software. But you know what? That doesn’t make it okay to inconvenience me despite my having paid the money for the software. People who download illegal copies will not have to put up with this inconvenience. I won’t pay for the ‘privilege.’

And what happens when BioWare decides the game has run its course and they’re going to shut down the activation servers? The game is dead even if I want to keep playing it. I’ve looked at games on the shelves and many clearly state that the publisher may shut down their online multi-player servers at some time in the future. This is a magnitude worse because the activation servers are required for single-player off-line play.

Like I said, no.

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