Chrome’s Windows 8 Mode

Screenshot 2014-04-09 08.51.06

If you switch Chrome to “Windows 8 Mode” it creates its own little environment, complete with draggable windows, a task bar and a clock. It looks like a complete little operating system. (I’ve never used Chrome OS – but the screenshots look familiar).

This seems utterly daft to me.

Windows 8 mode services a very specific purpose. It’s full- or split-screen apps with no sense of windows. Think of them as panels. This approach – whether we enjoy it or not – is supposed to be consistent.

Chrome comes in, adds its own layer, and confuses the heck out of anybody who happens to click the wrong button. Am I still in Windows? Where have all my programs gone? Why is something different here? Anyone who has helped friends and colleagues with basic computer needs will know that the simplest change – the tiniest disruption – can cause users to lose their bearings.

For what it’s worth I don’t necessarily appreciate Windows 8 Mode either – I find the whole thing a half-way compromise between tablet and desktop that fails both sides. A dichotomy of inconsistent metaphors and actions. It’s a mess, but the last thing we surely want is another company (Google) throwing things even further off kilter.

As a proposition, I quite like the idea of Chrome OS, but as a separate choice only. Chrome in Windows 8 Mode appears to fail to appreciate the good things that Windows 8 Mode brings (yes, there are good bits) and wilfully catapults its users into a confusing, inconsistent environment. It reaks of the 90s trend of building apps with their own confusing controls and windows just because we can – although I suspect Google genuinely has long-term plans for what it’s doing here.

Heartbleed

A vulnerability has been found in the encryption library OpenSSL, used by a huge proportion of web and Internet services. This bug allows malicious users to access bits of memory on the server and potentially read enough information to render the encryption useless.

Worse, having obtained the right data, they could compromise the security of past and future communications allowing eavesdropping, impersonation and stealing of data.

The vulnerability, known as Heartbleed, was found by researchers at Google and Codenomicon. While publicly announced only yesterday (7 Apr), it seems the bug has been present since December 2011, and was part of a release in March 2012.

The various affected Linux distributions have been speedily updated and I updated our servers this morning. We must now wait and see how quickly the fixes will be applied to other servers and systems.

The effect of this bug is serious: it undermines the security protocols used throughout the Internet, and an attack is apparently undetectable in ordinary logs. This means that high-profile websites might be well-advised to renew their security certificates, so that any ‘exposed’ details cannot be used in a future attack.

No Marketing, No Service

The ostensibly ‘free’ wifi you often get at pubs, hotels and other locations usually requires some form of sign-up to access the service. These are usually fairly dumb captive portals that ask for name, email address and permission to send you marketing. No great deal – if you don’t like it there are plenty of fictional names that work equally well.

However, one particular hotspot from a well-known brand stuck out the other day. To use their service you must provide your mobile number – “it’s just to confirm your identity,” they say, but the terms and conditions state something else entirely: by signing in you are automatically opted into marketing. If you opt out, you lose your right to use the service.

In other words, receive our junk or no wifi for you.

This is – on the face of things – not that unreasonable. You get something for free, and you receive wifi. Except, it’s not quite free, is it? Personal details; attention. Each has an implicit value: just look at advertising, where space on TV, radio, print and online is usually charged based on attention potential – i.e. how many people might see it.

So, is it really ‘free’? My feeling is not, but it’s hard to draw the line. A captive portal with a simple ‘Go Online’ and a banner ad is equally ‘non-free’ by this equation. Perhaps it’s the combination of giving up a mobile number and receiving marketing? But what’s the value…?

For me, the value of getting the wifi was less than the value of the data and rights I would have to exchange for it. From person to person, this is going to vary. Some might think nothing of it – in fact, given this is the company’s business model, I’d wager most do just that. In any case, the value of the ‘stuff’ we possess (data, privacy, attention) is unlikely to be always zero, and there is a limit to the amount people will give in return for a service or item.

Whatever – I didn’t sign up. Thankfully my mobile had signal and whatever I needed wasn’t that important anyway.