Monthly Archives: January 2019
Yesterday we reported on AT&T's controversial Terms of Service, which in broad legal language gives AT&T the right to terminate a customer's service for activity which AT&T deems "damaging" to its reputation. As we noted yesterday, the legal language is particularly vague and appears to give AT&T broad discretion in deciding what constitutes "damage."
To recap, in section 5 of its legal ToS, AT&T stipulates the following:
AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.
Translation: "conduct" that AT&T "believes" "tends to damage" its name, or the name of its partners, can get you booted off the service. Note the use of "tends to damage": the language of the contract does not require any proof of any actual damage.
Interpretation of this section of the ToS has been practically unanimous online: it gives AT&T the power to punish customers that dare criticize the company. However, an AT&T spokesperson tells Ars Technica that the company has no interest in engaging in censorship but stopped short of saying that AT&T could not in fact exercise its ability to do so.
"AT&T respects its subscribers' rights to voice their opinions and concerns over any matter they wish. However, we retain the right to disassociate ourselves from web sites and messages explicitly advocating violence, or any message that poses a threat to children (e.g. child pornography or exploitation)," the spokesperson told Ars Technica. "We do not terminate customer service solely because a customer speaks negatively about AT&T."
The language of the contract reflects synchronization between the AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet Terms of Service with the Terms of Service for AT&T's Worldnet and BellSouth customers. AT&T says that the language is not new, nor is such language unique to AT&T's contracts. It does appear to be here to stay.
Some readers who learned of the updated Terms of Service were upset by them, but not surprised.A reader drew connections to AT&T's involvement in the recent domestic spying scandal. "Given the fact that AT&T doesn't seem to have been hurt much with the spying case, I really don't think they will be hurt much if they cut off people that criticize them," wrote one reader.
Customers will have to take AT&T's word on faith, for the language of the contract is far broader than the spirit of its intent, as described by the AT&T spokesperson. However, as I noted yesterday, AT&T is clearly aware that using the ToS for censorship could cause considerable uproar. It's a cliché, but only time will tell if AT&T sticks to its word.
Get ready for the "new" Yahoo Search, a revamped version of the old search that now offers blended results, improved analysis of search intent, and a new "Search Assist" tool. The improvements made to the world's second largest search engine are designed to make the site more interactive and better able to offer rich results. The company claims that these are the most significant changes since switching back to its core search technology from Google in 2004.
Yahoo appears to be doing something right, which is good news for a company that many believe is destined to always play second fiddle to Google. Web analysis firm Compete recently published data on search queries between several of the top search engines and found that although Google still retains a substantial market share lead over the competition, Yahoo appears to trounce Google when it comes to search fulfillment. That is, more Yahoo queries result in a successful clickthrough to one of the results—75 percent of searches, in the month of August, compared to Google's 65 percent and Live Search's 59 percent. This data seems to indicate that Yahoo's results do a better job at presenting information that is useful to the user. Building on this success, Yahoo's new search enhancements look to improve further on the core search experience.
The most significant change, Search Assist, tries to help predict what the user is looking for and offers up variations or alternatives. It has been added as an AJAX layer on top of the page that pops up when it senses that the user is hesitating on a search query. Looking for something that starts with "ars?" Maybe you're looking for Ars Technica, ares, ars national, or ars poetica.
The tool can also offer up related concepts—Yahoo! Search VP Vish Makhijani offers up a query for "energy savings" as an example, which causes Search Assist to present a plethora of search options and alternatives that don't necessarily contain the term "energy," but could be related. "In testing Search Assist, we found that users were 61% more successful in completing their task with this new search feature at their disposal," Makhijani writes. For those who are simply slow or hesitant typists, Yahoo (thankfully) does offer an option to turn off Search Assist if you should so choose.
Other improvements include the integration of photos from Yahoo-owned Flickr that are tagged with words from the user's query, inlined videos when they are available (such as movie trailers), and even streaming audio snippets from Yahoo Music when you search for certain bands. The blended search catches Yahoo up to the rest of the leading search engines, although Yahoo's formatting more closely resembles Google's blended results than do its competitors.
"Revamped search" is the theme of the week when it comes to major search engines. Microsoft announced that it had made a number of major modifications to its Live Search late last week, which included a fourfold increase in indexed sites, better prediction of users' search intent, an improved analysis of clickstream data, and deeper integration into its Answers platform. The changes were substantial, and Microsoft said that it believed it could finally compete with Google.
Yahoo's new search may be welcomed by regular users, but the changes only bring it in line with features that were already offered by Google and its competitors. At the very least, Yahoo's changes (like Microsoft's) don't look substantial enough to truly unseat Google from its throne, at least in terms of features and buzz. However, if Compete's study is a reflection of user experience, Yahoo may be on to something. After all, isn't search result relevancy truly the most important "feature" of a search engine?
Makhijani indicates that we can expect more changes from Yahoo soon. "This is just the beginning of some of the improvements you'll be seeing from Yahoo! Search over the next few months," he wrote on his blog. We look forward to seeing what those will be, and watching Yahoo fight its way up the long, uphill battle against Google. Some say that the search wars have stagnated. Perhaps they are only just heating up.
When AMD launched the R600 launched last May, it didn't exactly steal the limelight from NVIDIA. Although the R600 series is considered to have excellent anti-aliasing and overall image quality, AMD was appeared unable to launch a card variant that could compete with the overall performance of the NVIDIA's GeForce 8800 Ultra or the 8800GTX. Power consumption may have been a major reason as to why AMD avoided rolling out higher speed grades—again, compared to its competition, the 2900XT draws a considerable amount of power. Now it seems AMD is set to address some of these issues with a new arrival in the 2900 series—the HD 2950 Pro.
According to DigiTimes, the 2950 Pro is based on an upcoming refresh of the R600, code-named RV670, and set to launch on November 19. Unlike the original 2900XT, the 2950 Pro will only sport a 256-bit memory bus, but will operate at higher clock speeds than the R600 design. AMD is apparently planning two versions of the card: Gladiator will have an 825MHz GPU frequency, an effective memory clock of 2.4GHz, and 512MB of GDDR4. The lower-end part, Revival, will operate at 750MHz, sport a 1.8GHz memory clock, and be available in 256MB and 512MB flavors.
What makes this launch particularly interesting is that AMD appears to be specifically targetting the $220-$300 price range. If that's true, it puts the 2950 Pro up against the 8600GTS at the low-end of that price range, and targets the 320MB 8800GTS at the high point. If the 2950 Pro performs well in both of its apparently planned iterations, it could potentially drive a wedge between NVIDIA's products in that market segment—something I'm sure AMD wouldn't mind at all with the Christmas buying season approaching.
The Showdown continues. Each week we pick a topic, flip a coin to see which OT writer gets which side to debate, and then we present it to you. Today? Now that the second part of the Halo 3 review has been released, Ben and Frank debate whether or not Halo 3 lived up to the massive hype surrounding it.
Ben: The hype for Halo 3 was quite amazing. From toys to controllers to the great video trailers and commercials on TV and Xbox Live Marketplace to the horrendous gaming fuel, it's everywhere. You can see Halo 3 pictures at the damn gas station. By the time the game got into your hands there was a good chance you might have been sick of the series, and of course all the jaded PC gamers were screaming about how much Halo sucks and how FPS gaming on a console is terrible, and the emperor was of course completely nude.
When I got my copy, the first thing I did was beat the single-player in two sittings, and I agree with most of Frank's points. It just didn't grab me. Now, once I took the game onto Xbox Live, it was another story, I'm in the middle of playing the game again in co-op with four players, making my own game variants and maps, and of course just blowing the hell out of things. I've been doing a lot of research for the multiplayer review, which means I've been basically living on my Xbox 360 playing Halo 3 online. I'm not sure how many hours I've already put into the game, but I know I have many more left in me. Online Halo 3 is a versatile beast that rewards your creativity and the retelling of war stories via screenshots and video clips. Does it live up to the hype? The single player doesn't, but get some friends online and you may have a contender for game of the year.
Frank: Writing the review of the single player portion of Halo 3 wasn't an easy task, but I did cherish the experience; I feel like I've participated in the Halo culture now. I'd grown increasingly interested in the series since the beta—playing through the original two games and reading the triology of books—and I was looking forward to the game. But I couldn't help but feel as though I knew from the start that it wasn't going to match the unrealistic expectations the hype had set out. This was especially noteable in my case because I absolutely adored the Chopin-scored diorama commercials; I was hoping for that giant battle to be the final act of Halo 3, and nowhere does the actual game match the scale, scope, or emotive ability of that commercial.
Halo is a franchise that does what it does very well, and Halo 3 lives up to that pedigree, but it is in no way the kind of momentous work of man that should be praised forhaving provided agodly visionunique in gaming's history. The only reason Halo 3 will go down as a landmark release is because of the (exorbitant) salesnumbers. It's a good game, don't get me wrong, and there's so much content there that the game is truly worth every single penny of its price, even the Legendary edition. But a whole lot of something doesn't necessarily make it amazing. To me, Halo 3 didn't live up to the hype: no game possibly could, no matter how flawless it may or may not be.
Ben: I think you're missing what makes Halo so special: the community that Bungie creates. The freedom the game gives you to create your own game types, the ability to play four-player co-op online, the film editing and sharing features, the Forge, all these things are based around gamers playing with groups of people they enjoy spending time with. They really let people bend the game to get what they want out of it. What other console game does that, and makes it so user friendly? It's awesome that I can play a game, watch the video, snap a screenshot, and upload it to my personal file-sharing area in about five minutes to show off. Beating the campaign over and over in co-op with scoring turned on is also a blast.
The replayability of the title is off the charts. This is a game that the community will continue to change and support for years. I feel like I see something new every time I play it, and we haven't even had a week to see what the Internet community will be able to do with these tools. Halo 3 is going to age incredibly well, and that alone makes it worth the build-up.
Frank: That "community" is what drives a lot of people away from playing Halo multiplayer, myself included. I've finally had the chance to sit down and play some real multiplayer now that the servers are up and my copy has arrived. While I quite enjoy the co-op, the multiplayer is about what I expected from the beta: fun for a while, but stuffed with problems when played outside of your friends list. For me, Halo 3 will be used because it's agame that almost everyone on my friends list has;I own a copy solely to play (occasionally) with them. Free-for-all with my headset off remains the main attraction, aside from team games with friends.
Truth be told, the multiplayer and co-op is really where Halo 3 shines, but it's just not my style. Forge is great, but like Gary's Mod before it, I think it'll be the kind of thing that a select few get obsessed with and others rarely touch. The video editing and sharing is awesome, as are the savable screenshots, but that doesn't really make the gameplay itself any more interesting or diverse. Ultimately, when Call of Duty 4 and Unreal 3 come around, my Halo 3 days will be behind me.
There's no question that Halo 3 will be around for years—just look to the Xbox Live charts and the placing of the first two titles for proof positive—but that doesn't mean it has lived up to its potential. As I said, it's a great game in many regards, but it just isn't the be-all, end-all, buy-a-360-because-this-is-a-must-play game that Microsoft and Bungie wanted it to be. I think for almost everyone but the elitist fans of yore, Halo 3 will be a decent game played with friends for some fun and nothing more. It is not the unparalleled, unrivaled, or unprecedented experience that it was billed as.
What say you, readers? Now's your chance to sound off about the biggest game release of the year.
Cocoatech's Path Finder is one of the strongest Finder replacements available for Mac OS X. Packed with features and customization abilities until the cows come home, one of its few drawbacks stems from Apple's reluctance to allow Mac OS X users to completely replace the Finder with an alternative.
Joining the list of apps that are already prepared for Leopard in more ways than one, Path Finder has been bumped to version 4.8 with a couple significant new features and nearly two dozen other goodies and bug fixes. At the top of the list is a thoroughly-redesigned UI that will make Path Finder look like as much of a Leopard resident as it performs (it's been ready for 10.5 for some time now). Gone is the indecisive mixture of UI elements that straddled Aqua, Brushed Metal, and the new "Unified" scheme exhibited by the likes of iTunes 7, iWork '08, and throughout Leopard. Cocoatech has gone all-in with the new unified look for Path Finder 4.8 on both 10.4 and 10.5.
The other major new feature (for which users have been clamoring over for four years now) is per-folder view settings, a significant advancement in terms of flexibility when managing and viewing files throughout Mac OS X and shared networks. This is handy for, say, setting a local folder of images to a large icon view with a colored background while keeping a column view on the shared Documents folder of your job's Windows server, yet still viewing your movies folder and the rest of your hard drive in list view.
While seasoned Finder ninjas probably aren't surprised by much just yet, the significance of Cocoatech's accomplishment with this feature is due to the banishment of those pesky .DS-Store files. In fact, it isn't using any hidden files to save these custom views—it's all in a centralized, lightweight SQLite database. This allows your Path Finder-endowed Mac to play nicer across various networks, no longer leaving a mess of hidden files behind.
Other enhancements include various changes and streamlining of Path Finder's options, as well as new browsing abilities such as creating bookmarks for files inside of packages (such as applications or iPhoto '08's new library system). Current users should be able to use Path Finder's built-in updating feature to grab version 4.8, while new users can download a 21-day demo from Cocoatech.com. A full license for Path Finder costs $34.95, and upgrades from any previous version are $17.95.
Venerable game shop Valve has a number of big-hitting titles under its belt, as well as a clever game delivery and shopping service called Steam that is more or less an iTunes Store for the game world. Since the early days of Half Life, Mac users have been clamoring for Valve to bring its games to Apple's side of the playground. We've always been met with disappointment.
if you're seeking an answer as to why Valve just doesn't do Mac, gaming site Kikizo has posted an interview with Valve MD and co-founder Gabe Newell that provides an answer we've heard all too often from other frustrated game studios. While the interview is primarily about a new Half Life 2 release, some of Kikizo's first questions relate to the Mac and why Valve hasn't opened the door yet.
The summarized answer we've heard time and time again? Apple just doesn't seem to take gaming seriously. Newell mentions meeting with Apple on various occasions to discuss gaming on the Mac and get a few balls rolling, but Apple never follows through. Due to regime changes at Apple and a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the gaming industry as a whole, Valve claims that it keeps getting the cold shoulder from Apple. It has understandably lost interest in courting the company.
Unsurprisingly, Newell cites Apple's confusing stance on gaming as one of the key factors holding the company back in the consumer market. Sure, Mac market share has been consistently rising for a few years now and we're rooting for Mac gaming as much as we can. But even Apple's latest reaffirmation for Mac gaming by bringing major EA titles to the Mac feels more like a half-effort than a truly genuine initiative on both companies' parts.
I completely agree with Newell in that Apple isn't doing gamers any favors by flaking in and out of gaming, but I also see the lack of a customizable mid-range Mac that fits within the typical gamer's price range as another significant deterrent. A $2500 Mac Pro is designed for professional video studios and science labs crunching on terabytes of DNA—gamers need a tower more in line with the iMac's design and price that they can upgrade with a new video card every two weeks with each new game release. (I'm informed by our editor that this is known at Ars as the infamous "xMac.")
Why Apple isn't opening its doors to this flourishing industry and its typically high-paying customers is beyond me, and it's baffling homerun-slugging studios like Valve as well. While our hopes for the Mac gaming market remain… steady, it's looking more and more like we might have to keep Boot Camp and a Windows license around after all.
The Gimmie panel enhancement project has been proposed for inclusion in GNOME 2.22. Gimmie provides a highly streamlined user interface that exposes GNOME functionality in a logically organized and consistent manner.
The Gimmie interface is structured so that the most frequently used items are easily accessible and additional items can be accessed with only a few clicks. The interface separates functionality into four distinct tabs: one for documents and files, one for applications, one for people and contacts, and a generic system tab that provides access to drives, printers, settings, and other useful features. Gimmie also integrates with a number of prominent GNOME applications like Pidgin and Tomboy.
Gimmie can be used with GNOME in two different ways. The Gimmie panel applet embeds buttons for accessing the main Gimmie tabs directly into the GNOME panel. Gimmie also offers an experimental panel replacement that provides direct access to the Gimmie tabs and also includes a visual task list, a virtual desktop pager, a clock, and a notification area region.
For GNOME 2.22, Gimmie developer Alex Graveley has proposed inclusion of the Gimmie panel applet, but not the Gimmie panel replacement dock. If included in GNOME 2.22, the Gimmie panel applet could become an optional replacement for the conventional GNOME menu applet, which implements the Applications, Places, and System menus seen in the top panel in default GNOME configurations.
The Gimmie panel applet is widely used, and it is currently included in the package management repositories of several mainstream Linux distributions, including the upcoming Ubuntu 7.10.
“Looking towards the future, Gimmie is designed to move towards the Online-Desktop model, while preserving access to the features of the existing desktop,” wrote Gravely in his proposal. “This is a niche which none of the new Panel or navigation menu alternatives (let alone other desktops) are pursuing, and one which I consider pivotal if GNOME is to remain pertinent.”
Other popular panel and navigation menu alternatives include the Ubuntu System Panel, Novell’s Slab menu, and the Avant Window Navigator.
Gimmie offers a very powerful and innovative paradigm for GNOME interaction, but there are still a number of deficiencies that have to be resolved. My biggest complaint with Gimmie is the lack of support for effective keyboard navigation. Gravely also highlights several issues that will have to be resolved before Gimmie can be included in GNOME 2.22. Placeholders for unimplemented features like Flickr and Google Office integration will have to be removed. Several experimental user interface features that aren’t sufficiently robust yet will also have to be removed, particularly the timeline widget.
Although Gravely doesn’t personally have enough time to be able to focus on maintaining and improving Gimmie, he notes that community contributors have been working hard and that a new release is imminent. Pending resolution of the minor remaining issues, I’m really looking forward to seeing Gimmie included in GNOME 2.22. Gimmie’s tightly-integrated interface represents an important incremental step towards the concepts that will embody the next generation GNOME desktop.
Even the casual user of Mac Office 2004 will be familiar with the Formatting Palette. The one-stop tool for sorting the myriad of options associated with altering text and objects in office documents was a great addition to the UI in Mac Office 2004. Those less familiar with Mac Office 2004 may never have even known about the other palette, also known as the Office Toolbox, which gave access to several utilities: Scrapbook, Compatibility Report, Project Palette, and Reference Tools. Well, never let it be said that there can be too much of a good thing, as the latest e-mail from the Mac BU makes clear.
The Toolbox has been revamped to become a true one-stop destination for some of the most useful tools in Office for Mac. Incorporating the original Office for Mac Toolbox and Formatting Palette into a single UI, this Mac-only feature will continue to give users instant access to the tools they need, including Object Palette, Animation Settings, Citations, and Formula Builder.
Why it was decided to cram more options into a densely-packed UI is something of a mystery, as is the reasonthe lesser known "toolbox" moniker was used. A badly-compressed demo of the new Toolbox can be found here, but not much is gained compared to high-resolution screenshots and detailed explanations, though a few observations can be made.
Mac Office 2008 and iWork media browsers
First, among the many icons there can now be found a media browser that can access the iPhoto library. Unfortunately, unlike the Media Browser in iWork, it cannot access other types of media, like audio and video. This would be an example of not offering enough options.
Mac Office 2008 and iWork text palettes
An example of perhaps too many options in one place might be the text palette. Not to offend those office users needing ligatures in their document, but does that checkbox really belong there? In contrast, Pages has options spread out a little more and grouped differently. Of course, part of that is because Pages uses a Formatting Toolbar, but still there is a different philosophy at work.
Pages showing multiple palettes
Since widescreen displays are sold across the Mac product line, you would think it might be a good idea to take advantage of that in conjunction with a word processor. Unfortunately, it appears that you still have just one Toolbox with Mac Office 2008, though you can customize it. Of course, you could customize it in Mac Office 2004, but now you "flip" it around like a Dashboard widget and select whether it fades or collapses, and which palettes will be visible in the Toolbox.
Say what you want about the Ribbon UI (I don't like it) in Windows Office, but the harshest critic has to admit that the developers made a bold move in addressing the problem of information overload. In a different way, Apple developers have addressed that issue by offering only those features they think you need with iWork. With Mac Office 2008, it feels more and more like the UI is drifting, a new Elements Gallery, more features crammed into the Toolbox, but no sense of a singular vision mediating between the program and the user. With Mac Office 2008 complete, perhaps someone should ask a basic question about Mac Office 2012.
Mac BU, where do you want to go today?
Columbia Law professor Tim Wu has been a busy man lately. In addition to kicking off the debate about "wireless network neutrality" earlier this year, Wu has helped to launch two recent projects designed to bring power to the people.
First up is AltLaw, a site that tries to make legal opinions easier to find. The database currently provides full-text search of Supreme Court and Federal Appellateopinions from the last decade or so. Italso allows for easy downloading of decisions in PDF format or plain text. The goal is to make US case law at the highest levels easily available to citizens without requiring them to subscribe to specialized legal databases or learn the sometimes arcane art of navigating the various appellate court web sites.
Currently, the site does not include decisions from the federal district courts, where most federal cases start, nor does it include state courts. Federal court information can currently be retrieved from a system called PACER, though it costs $.08 per page to view most documents, requires an account and credit card information to even browse the system, and the interface lets users relive the glory days of 1998. If AltLaw can make these federal decisions freely accessible and easy to search, it could quickly become an important resource for researchers, lawyers, and citizens.
The site was started in part by Columbia's Program on Law and Technology, which Wu directs. The Program is also a cosponsor of the new site KeepYourCopyrights.org, which helps creators, well, keep their copyrights. No fancy AJAX mojo here; the site is a series of static pages that lay out the basics of copyright law as it affects creators. It also offers some guidance for thinking about how to handle the rights granted by a copyright with the goal of encouraging "a more proactive attitude toward copyright management."
Most creators know that any work they create is automatically copyrighted, even if they never send documentation to the Library of Congress. But the site also points out some features of copyright law that many creators might not know; for instance, that the law gives everyone a chance to reclaim rights after 35 years after signing them away to a publisher, movie studio, or record label.Furthermore, "You have this termination right even if your contract says not only that you gave everything away for all time but even also that you promised not to try to get your rights back."
The site is careful to note that it is not offering legal advice to copyright owners, but if you're a creator who wants to bone up on copyright law, you could do worse than starting at KeepYourCopyrights.
The PlayStation 3 version of Unreal Tournament 3 has grown increasingly attractive over the last year. The game's keyboard and mouse support, in addition to the inclusion of user-created content, make it a strong contender for the choice Unreal version come this November. Alas, it seems like those of us looking to pick the title up on the PS3 in November will have to wait until next year, as Midway announced today that the PlayStation 3 version of Unreal Tournament 3 has been delayed until 2008.
A financial update from Midway indicates that the delay of Stranglehold on the PlayStation 3 led to a bit of a domino effect, in turn pushing back other projects to the Q1 2008 window. From the company's statement:
The changes are primarily to reflect Midway's decision to release Stranglehold for the PLAYSTATION® 3 computer entertainment system in the fourth quarter rather than the third quarter, the expected movement of Unreal Tournament 3 for the PLAYSTATION 3 system into the first quarter of fiscal 2008, and lower expected sales of BlackSite: Area 51 primarily due to the adverse impact of the split shipment between the Xbox 360 and the PLAYSTATION 3 system, with the European version of BlackSite: Area 51 for the PLAYSTATION 3 system shifting into the first quarter of 2008.
This gives the PlayStation 3 version of the game a release window of January 1 through March 31, with the PC version hitting this November as previously scheduled and the Xbox 360 version coming some time in 2008. Disappointing. Well, at least there's plenty of other big shooters due out before then, including Orange Box, Call of Duty 4, and Haze. Still, one of the premier reasons that I picked up the PlayStation 3 was to enjoy Unreal Tournmanet III in a way that my aging computer simply couldn't provide, and now I'm left to pine for the return to the glory of "R-R-R-Rampage."