A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Restoration of the ownership of consumer's computer

The settlement reached by Song BMG with the FTC and in other settlement with the 41 other states is a defining moment of the restoration in a no uncertain term who is the rightful owner of the computer.

The words of the FTC Chairman should be plastered on every Song BMG CD from now as a reminder of this anti-consumer business practice endorsed by its management:
"Consumers' computers belong to them, and companies must adequately disclose unexpected limitations on the customary use of their products so consumers can make informed decisions regarding whether to purchase and install that content,"
If Song BMG so worries about their IP, keep in locked drawers. You can't have it both ways.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Return of the Belkin UPS - what an experience!

My disappointing experience with the Belkin F6H650 reported in my previous blog forced me with no choice but to return this to the shop.

That experience clearly demonstrates that in today's world one cannot trust anything a shop assistant, no matter his rank, tells you. Sad. In days gone by, they stand by their statement and they would not say anything without real knowledge backing it.

The dialogue with the supervisor of the shop to which I returned the UPS is a sad indictment of today's society that treats customers with total arrogance and instead of providing real service, they are out to rip you off with no shred of worry.

I decided to go to the shop early to avoid crowd and after mentioning my intention to one of the staff, he summoned his supervisor to deal with me and here is the dialogue:

Me: I want my money back from this UPS because 1) before I bought it, I asked the salesman if this had XP native driver and I found that it did not after I bought it, 2) the software that came with it did not even work in high security settings of my XP (I knew if I mention about LUA they would have no idea.). Hence this UPS is totally useless to me.

Sup: (With an air of authority) OK. But why would you expect the battery backup unit needing any software to talk to your computer?

Me: (Not knowing to laugh or to thump this ignorant soul, I decided to ask him a question in return) Alright. Let's say you go away leaving the computer running with this battery back up unit supplying power to the computer. Then the power goes off for more than 30 minutes (the box says it only can last 20 minutes), what'll happen? Or what should I do?

Sup: Well it would only last 20 minutes (after looking at the box) and of course you had to be there to turn your computer off.

Me: Are you serious? The whole idea of a UPS is to ensure the computer is shutdown gracefully. The native driver and/or software is for the back up unit to tell the computer that the mains power has gone and that the computer should begin to run the shutdown process; like closing the files or to initiate hibernation to take place. The native drive does not need any software and is the preferred way. Want me to show you in an XP machine?

Sup: (Turning to his technician) What do you think?

Me: You know in XP, you have admin account, in which I installed the software, and then there is the users account (the low privilege account), the one all my users use. When I run in the users account, the software fails to run and to talk to the UPS.

Tech: Ok. But can't you grant this software administrators' privilege?

Me: Sorry. No way as that would open up the security and is then vulnerable to attacks. I have other UPS that has native driver and not needing this. This is not the first UPS I have but is the first time I tried Belkin. I can't use this UPS.

Sup: Alright. In that case, can you (the technician) check to see everything is in the box and if everything is in order, we would refund the money. Sorry about all these problems.

I hate to imagine what will happen to a less technically knowledgeable person in this situation. The opening remarks from this supervisor clearly tried to intimidate the customer rather than giving him/her valuable and truthful information to resolve the situation. Making such ignorant remark may sound authoritative and knowledgeable to other but to this old hand, it clearly demonstrates that they know nothing about the stuff they are selling.

I am sure he will sell a donkey for a horse if he is in the animal trading business. Company has a duty to staff their store with people that knows what they are selling and a duty to help to solve their customer's need and not just to take the money off their hands.

This applies equally to Belkin that it should use knowledgeable staff to write a driver to interface their UPS with the Windows UPS framework. It is not good enough to please their accountant to supply some rubbish that fails to run and definitely has not been tested in LUA.

UPS software needs to be more robust than your word processor or web browser. It is your last line of defense in the keeping the machine alive and to ensure the operating system shutdown gracefully.

I personally know software companies routinely do not train their staff preferring to acquire the skill when needed. This is fine if the company knows how to ascertain the person has the skill or just some superficial level of knowledge. But in my experience, when they do not have in house skill, they often do not know how to test if a potential candidate has the required knowledge either.

As a result, it is a blind leading the blind situation and Belkin UPS is the by-product of this kind management style. They are not giving their customer the level of service they rightfully deserve.

If you are after a UPS, looks somewhere else. Always look for one that has XP native driver. This is the one that integrate into the Control Panel | Power Options | UPS facility.

Don't be fooled by the pretty bitmap or animation usually come with those that do not have native driver but relying on their software packages. These packages are often written to suit the producer's bottom line rather than genuinely offering enhanced supports. They are, without failing, written to run in a number of platforms. There is nothing wrong with this well meaning intention provided that they conform to each platform's operating system demands properly and completely.

In the case of Belkin's software, this is definitely not the case in XP and not even in Linux. One should remember the following comment from the driver's author:
As the author of the belkinunv driver, and the maintainer of the Belkin subdriver of newhidups, I usually advise people to avoid Belkin at all cost. They produce crappy hardware that often breaks the USB protocol and should not be allowed to operate. In some cases, even their own software does not work properly with their devices.
Thank God, I got my money back and that will be my last association with Belkin UPS.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Buying UPS - Beware of Belkin F6H650xxxUNV

For those contemplating of buying UPS for your desktop and is looking at a Belkin F6H650xxxUNV, read on.

xxx can be uk or aus and is a UPS of 650VA capacity.

The problem with this UPS is on its software support. It does not have an XP driver that integrates into the XP Power Management.

It comes with a Belkin Power Management Software (ver 3.22ea). Every time I see UPS supplying their own power management software I feel the chill down my spine.

I was in a rush and did not look at the box carefully. I casually asked the salesman (big mistake) if it had XP driver. I might as well asked a teetotaller is beer makes from grapes.

After everything was connected, I discovered Belkin UPS did not have XP driver. It used their own Power Management Software that had the following major flaws:
1) It worked in admin account for a little while.
2) When I run my normal account in LUA, it is a dead duck. It failed to connect to my UPS. Initially it failed to start the services.
3) When I uninstalled it to pack it up to return to the shop, I discovered it left all the rubbish around including the USBMate services.

This is a classic example of hardware manufacturers not investing to develop the proper driver to integrate into the OS. They do not make money on the software - they only get money from the hardware. But if you do not have a piece of software that works with the operating system, the UPS is of little use at all unless you hang around waiting for the power to go off.

This piece of software looks like stitched together with a bunch of free stuff of unknown quality.

It is so obvious that the developers of this heap of rubbish do not know what they are doing and do not know Windows Security Model. It writes evt and data log files into "\Program Files\Belkin\Belkin......" power management software installation direction in clear violation of Windows Security Model that was prescribed in Windows 2000. For God sake, please read some document before you let loose on the keyboard and write this kind of garbbage.

This kind of practice is not unusual for the bottom of the rank kind of UPS - UPS from Powerware, Liebert, etc.

So if you are buying UPS stay clear of Belkin. Even a Powerware one is better than this one.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

One very good reason not to use Internet Explorer 7

The Microsoft Windows Updates tells me that the IE7 is available to download. So I dutifully allowed this to proceed. What a mistake that is. While it works as a competent browser, it has lost a very important key feature that I desperately need and use frequently.

I am an unwaivering supporter of using LUA (Least Privilege User Account) and I will not deviate from this highly secure modus operandi just to have tab browsing - I have already enjoyed tab browsing way before Microsoft has released IE7 by using Firefox.

After I have installed IE7, I have discovered that I cannot fire up iexplore.exe in the way advocated by Keith Brown to provide a "Windows Explorer" running in admin account. No matter how much I had tried to tweak the IE7, I could not get it to behave like a Windows Explorer. If anyone knows how to do this, please tell me and I will be willing to give the IE7 another try.

Until then I consider IE7 hostile to using LUA and therefore should not be used in machines that are setup using LUA.

Thankfully, there is an uninstallation option to revert the IE back to IE6. Credit must be given to Microsoft for making the reversion so smooth and painless. Now with IE6, I am happy again.

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