Setting the Record Straight: Why Bing’s Rebuttal Makes No Sense

Yesterday Google kicked off the mother of all pissing contests by saying MS is copying their search results. You might as well have told them that santa doesn’t exist. I read google’s post and mulled it over and frankly it makes a lot of sense. Today the “bing team” (whoever that is) posted the rebuttal by “Yusuf Mehdi, Senior Vice President, Online Services Division”. I read that and… I don’t think it adds up.

So Yusuf claim is that Google engaged in click fraud. The problem here is you have to then believe that Bing is either so badly tuned it relies on the users to direct it to relevant results (which are impossible to assess before actually visiting the page) or you have to buy into the idea that bing uses google as the last ditch.

I think the explaination is somewhere in the middle. I think both sides have points. And I really think that I’m going to stick with google.

Google is smart. If bing were really querying google, google would have noticed. Maybe they don’t read their referral log, but surely on web analytics someone would have noticed a metric ton of queries coming from somewhere inside microsoft. I believe MS when they say they aren’t querying google. But this also means there’s a much bigger problem with Bing. Yusuf also says google engaged in click fraud. This is only click fraud by some weird definition of click fraud where the pages don’t actually link to each other. Conventional, or traditional click fraud requires trusted pages to link to each other to improve their rank, then the users click around each page going to each others page to improve the search results. What google did was create what basically amounted to an orphan, a page no-one would ever link to nor link from, and click on it 100 times, and they did it within google.

Does bing copy search results? Not in the sense that they query google for each question you ask. However what bing does watch is what you’re typing and what you click on. This is the only possible explanation for how they got the google search results. Now, google said they got here by installing Windows, installing IE8 and accepting the defaults (which would include the bing bar). Lets assume that someone took the time to read the end user license agreement (EULA). What’s the text of this? In the privacy section it says:

Suggested Sites is an online experience designed to show you which websites you visit most, and to provide you with suggestions of other websites you might be interested in visiting. When you turn on Suggested Sites, your web browsing history is automatically and periodically sent to Microsoft, where it is saved and compared to a frequently updated list of websites that are similar to ones you visit often. Suggested Sites also turns on automatic background updating for Web Slices and feeds so that you can receive up-to-date suggestions in both Suggested Sites and the Suggested Sites Web Slice.

You can choose to pause or stop the Suggested Sites feature from sending your web browsing history to Microsoft at any time. You can also delete individual entries from your history at any time. Deleted entries will not be used to provide you suggestions for other websites, although they will be retained by Microsoft for a period of time to help improve our products and services, including this feature. Any websites you visit while InPrivate Browsing is active will not be sent to Microsoft.

When Suggested Sites is turned on, the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information. To help protect your privacy, the information is encrypted when sent to Microsoft. Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included. For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=0&FORM=QBMH1&mkt=en-US will be sent. Address strings might unintentionally contain personal information, but this information, like the other information sent, is not used to identify, contact or target advertising to you. In addition, Microsoft filters address strings to try to remove personal information where possible.

Statistics about your usage of Suggested Sites will also be sent to Microsoft such as the time that websites were visited, which website referred you, and how you got there (e.g., by clicking a link or one of your Favorites). A unique identifier generated by Internet Explorer is also sent. The unique identifier is a randomly generated number that does not contain any personal information and is not used to identify you. If you delete your browsing history or if you turn Suggested Sites off and back on again, a new unique identifier will be created. There is no way to correlate an old unique identifier with a new one. This information, along with the website addresses and past history, will be used to personalize your experience, as well as improve the quality of our products and services.

That’s pretty straight forward to me. I think the google team overstated the problem, but I think it really cast some light on what microsoft is doing, how they’re doing it and how their moral compass works collecting this information from you.

I’ll stick to google.

VMWare Buys SuSE, What Now?

It was just announced that VMWare bought SuSE on the WSJ (paid version).

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

This deal included the cloud, but not any of the other OES layer. I had been a major supporter of the idea of having the OES (Open Enterprise System, or Other Expensive Shit) software as an add on and I thought it worked really well in that respect. I really didn’t like eDirectory in particular, I thought ZCM was junky and I thought most of the other novell products were trying to find some identity between legacy support and being similar to but not microsoft. eDirectory never aspired beyond being Active Directory with XML support. The driver set thing was interesting, but otherwise poorly implemented. The shared storage services were never particularly impressive and just ended up half assed compared to ZFS. The whole “similar to but not” thing extended into the depths of the distribution also – SuSE really is RedHat under the hood and I’ve made RedHat boxes run OES. Is it easy? No. Can it be done without breaking the OS or the repositories? Yes. My guess is there’s going to be a brief market for this and then it’s going to go away.

The IP going to VMware is the core OS and the cloud. This has two plusses for VMware. One of them it that SuSE has a nice gui. VMWare doesn’t want to be linux, it wants to be a GUI for managing VMs. The cloud thing is a natural since now you don’t have to provide storage, you can simply run your VM “in the cloud”. I personally think the cloud is a poor fit for VMware, but maybe they’ll do something cool with it.

AttachMate is buying the rest of the IP, including ZCM, which was the only profitable sector there. AttachMate does UIs for mainframes and legacy systems (including Unisys and I did lol) and really has no interest or use for 90% of the OES suite. They’re going to simply make connectors to the netware terminal. All the rest of the Netware software is likely to go away.

So what’s the silver lining? For one, mono development is DOA. Thank god. Mono was Linux’s bridge to .Net and it never worked well. For two we get rid of webdav alternatives.

What’s the downside? We lose out on YAST, which was probably the best in terms of bringing ease-of-use to linux. Ubuntu used it under the hood. The question becomes which side we want to be on – Ubuntu or RedHat? On one hand, RedHat developed most of the code which makes things like YAST run. On the other hand Ubuntu took it and make the UI pretty. RedHat dumps pretty for flexible and robust, but Ubuntu trades up some flexible and robust (and secure) for ease-of-use. This is a tough choice.

What of all the patents? Attachmate will own Linux as a trademark defacto, so it won’t surprise me to see Attachmate sell this to Microsoft whole or in part. I think there’s a strong argument for this being anticompetitive, but MS has a pile of money and lawyers and every reason to try to tie up RedHat who has effectively zero competitors now.

Leaving Novell’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server

I was trying to ruminate how to write this so it wasn’t an out and out hit piece on how badly Novell shot themselves when it comes to running Linux. Then I realized that this was the company who brought us netware, and they couldn’t ever get ahead of it. Once I realized this, I understood the fundamental truth of the issue: Novell has always stood in Microsofts shadow and this is why they never achieved greatness.

Netware always ran on top of DOS. They were inseparable even as OS2 ran on top of DOS. DOS wasn’t even particularly nice, but the selling point of DOS back then was that it wasn’t UNIX. And it wasn’t even that it wasn’t UNIX in the sense that UNIX was unpleasant to use – UNIX was a great write-once-run-anywhere example with POSIX (for the most part) – it was that it was so darned expensive. The rise of Linux has been documented ad infinitum on this blog and elsewhere. If you’re unclear about it, grab a copy of the absolutely great Revolution OS and watch it. It’s not as much about politics as The Cathedral and Baazar but more about the people involved and their motivation in the face of absolute commercial adversity.

Lets consider, for a moment, the state of a Linux company as a whole in the present. Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 (I’ll just call it “Win 7”) finally has threading and user separation which is actually worth something. Windows 7 scripting is still a crapshoot with power shell but it’s vastly better than it ever was. People are finally starting to take .Net seriously since the Win 7 threading stopped sucking. It’s still hideously expensive to run, but it’s got the critical advantage that people are generally familiar with it. I know most of my readership runs Linux, bear with me, I run it too. When we say that Linux has better, more robust filesystems, this is true. When we say Linux is typically faster, this is true. When we point to Linux and we say that it’s more secure, this is true. The problem here in the present for a Linux company is that Windows 7 is probably good enough for most people. MS has put something out which is so good it raises the bar, and people who were not terribly happy with Linux due to their vendor might take a moment and say “Well now performance is similar for my specific purpose, lets give it a try”. I’m looking at you, Novell, because your tech support sucks, and this is coming from someone who’s been running Linux for 10 years and saw how badly Caldera’s support sucked.

What happened to Caldera? Novell bought them. Sigh.

When the company I worked for decided to shove off Novell’s SuSE, this is exactly the reasoning. Novell’s support sucked, in turn performance was marginal but vastly poorer than their marketing material would have shown, I suggested going to RedHat and the company ultimately decided Windows 7 was “good enough”. There is now balkanization where various departments are spinning off their own IT groups who were happy and satisfied with SuSE, but these IT groups are running OpenSuSE and they’re not using the Novell proprietary services. They would be every bit as happy on RedHat or Fedora or Debian or Ubuntu… as they would with SuSE. To them it doesn’t matter what Linux they’re running so long as the old faithful chugs along and dishes up their applications. To them, Linux is “good enough”. To my group which has to do things like directory administration and file sharing, Novell was a serious problem on whatever OS we ran it on (including XP clients to eDirectory which often crashed or did weird stuff when java was updated) and the new problem was that it wasn’t even “good enough”, it was totally blown out of the water.

Lets take a step forward and get out my Penguin Crystal Ball. Novell’s in trouble because they’ve allied themselves as a partner with MS and touted their AD compatibility. The problem was they did this before Win 7 really got a foothold out there and now the Big Push from MS was Windows 7 as a server OS. Now Novell, once again, finds itself competing with MS in MS’s own ballpark. This is from a simple technology perspective, nevermind that Novell only recently fixed up eDirectory to AD support to make it robust. From a money perspective it’s a no brainer – the cost of the license + the cost of support is about what you would pay for a similar amount of performance from MS. I’m not going to say they lied here, but the performance numbers were definitely padded in my opinion and it only got worse once the virtualization craze hit because it was even slower. RedHat here is a great example of doing this correctly – the price is competitive and the numbers are correct, but more on the point RedHat understands that MS is the Big Dog in the neighborhood and RedHat’s claim to fame is that they serve as AD replica servers flawlessly. Now you have a MS product which is fully supported, but if you have a branch office that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, you can throw a RedHat Enterprise Linux server out there for $100 and serve up a full replica of AD. You can’t even buy Windows 7 for $100. Redhat’s other great idea – It doesn’t care if you’re a Mac or an MS client. It can serve up the domain and filesystems wholly transparently. Try joining an AD domain with an Apple sometime, see how that works out for you.

Novell, as a company, I am fairly sure will persist. There’s a lot of people such as ourselves who have legacy applications which run on Netware but want some bridge to the future. There’s also a place for companies right now who do Linux distributions because Linux’s kernel is going through growing pains at the moment with regards to hardware and “kernel module loaders”. The question is – how long can they hold on with both Apple and MS going for two different market segments? Apple is quickly becoming the defacto desktop to run for people who think buying a new computer is the solution to computer problems. They made a great choice putting a pretty face on the good old UNIX workhorse and they weren’t so vain as to make broad sweeping changes to POSIX (looking at you, Novell) or hide the command line. It even runs Linux software almost 100% so it has a wealth of applications. Win 7 in this respect is too little, too late. However, on the server side, Windows 7 is just what it needed to be to compete with UNIX deployments. Java, threads, scripting, POSIXy stuff and great privilege separation are all there. If I were Novell, I would be doing some serious soul searching.

If I were looking for a new way to update my infrastructure, I’d probably give Windows 7/Windows 2008 a try and put RedHat into service as a performance enhancer for my new, shiny system.

Update: In case anyone is wondering “what do I do if novell tanks?” – you can install OES (the Novell enterprise software) on top of RedHat. It works perfectly with a bit of librarly versioning work, but it can be done and it does run correctly.

Dear Microsoft

Dear Microsoft,

I’ve hated you since 1996 when I first cut my teeth on slackware when it was sold by walnut creek. Not that Slack was particularly easy to use but it was well organized for something insanely complex. Like a well designed engine, it had excellent performance and was easy to work on, which is good because I spent a lot of time working on it.

Now that you’ve decided to pretend you’re linux, I would like to point out something about Windows Powershell. Perl has excellent syntax for it’s casting. Java has excellent syntax for it’s prototyping. However to be “hip and open source” one does not take Perl’s typecasts and Java’s prototypes and try to pass them off as a legitimate scripting language to cover up whatever crap ass VB .Net exists under the hood. For the love of God if you want to be a visual operating system there’s a lot better methods you could have stolen rather than Perl/Java. In fact it makes little sense to try to “roll back” to these two on the command line when you don’t even have a command line mode anymore. If you run windows, you run the GUI. Stick to what you’re good at.

❤ Josh

XBOX 360 Wireless Part Deux

I scored the D-LINK DWL-G730AP for the XBOX 360. This was suggested when researching wifi solutions. Amazon shipped it and it got here the next day. Hows that for service? To make a long story short, I had exactly an hour to set it up yesterday before I was supposed to hop on for work.

How did that go?

For one, I’m running Linux, so I never got to review their quick start CD. The manual, however, is total crap and I ended up downloading the PDF from the website. D-Link tends to be better and consistent across their administration interface, and I had owned one previously before getting a netgear for the XBOX 360’s wired connection. The XBOX 360 shits fat packets, and if your hardware isn’t certified your connection used to completely suck. Nowadays people figured out the trick and the firmwares work, but be aware if your router crashes (and the REV A hardware and firmwares before 2 do for this device) you need a newer device. The old D-Link did this to a T and the Amazon reviews pretty much say nothings improved since 2006. It either works, or not. Thankfully buying it news means you get Rev B, and firmware 2.

This does nothing for the UI.

The UI is junk, frankly. To start with it depends on a swith on the bottom to configure it as a client (what you need for the XBOX), a router (with only one uplink port, lol) or a firewall. The last mode is next to useless, but if you’re looking to add wifi connectivity to a switch or router, it might scratch your itch. The problem is that the firewall settings are godawful. This doesn’t become a problem if you’re not using it as an AP. On the other hand, the other settings are godawful too and it’s not hard to see why there’s a totally seperate UI on the disk.

Configuration is the standard D-Link blue and white UI. The problems start with that switch. The UI changes from the position of the switch, but the modes are all roughly the same and bits and pieces either appear and disappear based on that switches positon. Sometimes this makes no sense at all. Trying to configure the device for a bridge lets me set the LAN side to DHCP. This makes sense, right? We want the XBOX to get a new IP when we plug it in, right? No. This means the LAN side of the bridge is DHCP, which means that it’s no longer 192.168.0.30 and now expects to have it’s IP assigned. Since the XBOX, or your laptop isn’t a DHCP server, this makes no sense at all in bridge mode. Similarly the gateway should be unconfigured (0.0.0.0) and the DNS server too. Since this device cannot be a DNS server (or relay) I’m not even sure why they put those features in there. Also completely weird is the SSID search –  you must find your router using the wizard and select it with the radio-button. You also need to specify a channel and it can’t figure out the authentication on it’s own. Why? No idea. The Netgear stuff can cloak the SSID and hop channels to avoid interference, but not using this device.

The final insult was that – for configuration – you need a static IP. After configuration, you need a dynamic IP. This is probably something gracefully handled by the install disc, but it’s not mentioned anywhere in the manual. I spent most of my time second guessing the config. Finally I fired up the DHCP client and bound it to the eth0 device which already had a static IP configuration and it magically worked. However, you’re not told (or prompted) to switch your settings once the device is configured. If you’re wondering, the gateway is set to the IP of the LAN side, but DNS needs to be another server. Your IP address is dynamically assigned and the device actually treats the whole process as full NAT, which is exactly what needs to happen to host XBOX games.

I’ve thrown these things under the bus pretty badly, but to be honest, once it’s configured you don’t have to worry about it. I played Modern Warfare 2 last night with no hiccups, and also watched a few Netflix. I saw no issues with either, and Netflix gives me the “five bars of signal”. If you can put up with the terrible UI once, it’s worth the money compared to the same crap from Microsoft. It has the bonus of being usuable for any device with an ethernet port, so in this way it’s superior. Friends and hunting buddies who want to get online with their computers now can just use this business card sized device instead of me having to run cable. If I had to reconfigure it many times, I probably would suggest passing on it.

The NSA Owns Your Windows

Crap like this scares me because it’s the government and it pisses me off because it’s something spammers and attackers can use against your box. Since my wife runs windows and I haven’t been able to talk her into a nice Linux desktop, we’re along for the ride. Hattip – Debs – How NSA Access is Built into Windows.