A dot com is an American domain

Verisign seizes .com domain registered via foreign Registrar on behalf of US Authorities” (via Daring Fireball) — a gambling site based outside the US, using a .com domain registered by a non-US registrar, has had its domain seized by US authorities after prosecutors in Maryland asked Verisign, who control the top-level .com nameservers, to hand it over.

The prosecutor noted that “sports betting is illegal in Maryland, and federal law prohibits bookmakers from flouting that law simply because they are located outside the country”. It’s not clear whether the site was doing anything that would be considered illegal outside the US, but I can’t see anything in the story to suggest so. It looks like a legal business in the country it operated in.

In my earlier post about the now-postponed SOPA regulations in the US (Why the proposed US copyright regulations should worry UK citizens) I wrote

The definition of a “domestic” site [in the draft legislation] is brief, but not without ambiguity: it’s a site with a domain name registered or assigned by a US registrar, or (if it has no domain name) a site hosted in the US.

I can’t tell whether that means names whose top-level domains have US-based sponsoring registrars, including all .org, .com and .net domains, or only those whose registration was carried out by a US-based registrar.

This case shows that US authorities may be inclined to treat any .org, .com or .net domain as being under US jurisdiction, no matter where its registrar was based.

Here in the UK, I think we’ve become too used to thinking of .com or .org domains as meaning simply “of the Internet” rather than of any specific country. That will have to change.

I’m not going to suggest we should rush to replace all our .org domains with ones—chances are many of them are hosted in the US in any case—but it’s time to forget the old ideal of an Internet domain rather than a national one. A dot com is an American domain.

Operating systems

Live Passport Net

Microsoft plans to drop Windows Live branding — Microsoft are apparently renaming their Windows Live user account system to “Microsoft Account”.

They’ve changed the name of this service a few times over the years. I first found myself with a Microsoft account in 1998 when Microsoft bought Firefly, an early music-discovery social network, and took over its user database. Firefly had already rather lost its original direction and had for some time been promoting its user database as a general-purpose online authentication product, called Passport.

The account login interface is one of Microsoft’s more consumer-visible products or services, and also one that is relatively easy for them to rename because, after all, nobody really chooses it for its brand name.

I think we can track the changing focus of the company through its names over the years:

  • Microsoft Passport (1998–2001): Gripped by fear of consumers moving many of their activities online, rendering Windows platform and applications less crucial: we need to get everyone using our service to manage their financial and identification needs.
  • .NET Passport (2001–2006): Corporate focus drifts from consumers (they’re ours, now) to developers. Wrap everything up in XML and sell it as a unified network ecosystem to bring ’em on board. Possibly a response to fear of Linux as a server platform, though as a Linux developer I might be overstating things.
  • Microsoft Passport Network (2006): I’m not quite sure where this one fitted in. Possibly a last-ditch attempt to get anyone other than Microsoft to use Passport by suggesting there could be such a thing as a community of sites built on it.
  • Windows Live ID (2006–2011): All hands on the Xbox, in response to a fear of getting squeezed out by initially single-purpose devices that begin to encroach on tasks previously carried out with a PC. A wave of newly capable consumer devices from other sources prompts a renewed focus on consumer appeal.
  • Microsoft Account (2012): The battle moves to the cloud! As Microsoft increasingly start to turn out applications for other operating systems besides Windows, the common theme is to ensure that the user is still part of the Microsoft “application platform” ecosystem, whether they are using Windows or not.

There’s been speculation that the forthcoming launch of the iPad 3 might see Microsoft release a version of Office for the iPad.

If this does come to pass, and Office ends up on the iPad, the one thing I really want to know is: will it sync with Microsoft’s SkyDrive, or with Apple’s iCloud?

Crap Things from Big Companies

No Refunds

Bogus Pokemon evolves into iTunes smash hit; 2012: The Year Scam Apps Killed the App Store — As someone who used the Android Market before either of Apple’s app stores, the thing I found most mind-boggling about Apple’s was the lack of any apparent way to get a refund if an application doesn’t work.

It fascinates me, although not in a good way, that the world’s most successful software store should be one in which normal consumer rights are effectively suspended. (It is possible to get a refund, from Apple rather than from the individual app developer, but by all accounts it isn’t easy.)

This really pains me as a developer, as well: if any of my customers are unhappy, I want them to get their money back immediately. It’s fair, and because it creates a better impression, it’s good business as well.

For developers, it’s both a logistical benefit and the curse of the App Store model that you generally have no contact with your customers. But not long ago I had an email from someone who had bought an app of mine from the Mac App Store and was disappointed with it—it didn’t do what they expected. What can I say? There’s nothing I can do to help you. That feels wrong: it is wrong.


Sad Lion

Mountain Lion may drop support for older Macs (The Verge)

It appears that OS/X 10.8 won’t work on many Macs more than about three years old.

Apparently this is a consequence of cleaning up its 64-bitness, and so losing support for 32-bit EFI bootloaders. (The 10.7 release already dropped support for 32-bit CPUs, such as the Core Duo used in the earliest Intel Macs.)

If this applies to the eventual release as well as the developer preview, that means it won’t run on any of the Macs available to me—not on either of the Mac Minis on my desk at work, nor the Mini I use for development at home, nor my wife’s MacBook Pro, nor indeed my mother’s MacBook.

(I’d better get ready to update this OS/X build compatibility page.)

Really though, this post is an excuse to include a picture of a Sad Lion drawn by my son.

Computers · Opinions

The Third Pad

I’ve become used to thinking of Apple’s product releases as falling into two categories: “outreach” or “consolidation”.

Outreach releases are new products, or products introducing features that users will be unfamiliar with or that are novel enough to be headliners in adverts.

Consolidation releases do essentially the same as the previous release, but faster or more neatly. Usually they look the same as well.

Early adopters buy and promote the outreach releases, with the “new” stuff in them. Late adopters are reassured that the product is “safe” in time to buy the consolidation release, which also has better specifications, is perhaps more reliable, and has a longer lifetime before replacement.

(I’m sure there are standard names for these two in business terminology. I’ve never had any education in business. From random things I’ve read, I’d like to say “disruptive” and “sustaining”, but I don’t think my uses really match the established meanings of these.)

Of course, there’s some room for argument about which release is of which type.

That’s what pubs are for.

In my view, outreach releases include the first iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 4, the first iPad and the first MacBook Air.  Consolidation releases include the iPhone 3GS and 4S, subsequent MacBook Airs, and all the iPod touch models.  Roughly speaking, the release types alternate.

What about the iPad 2?

I think of the iPad 2 as the ultimate consolidation release.

Although it looked different from the first iPad, essentially every change in the iPad 2 could be seen as a deliberate elimination of a specific reason that buyers and reviewers had cited as putting them off the original.

Reviewers complained that the iPad was too heavy. (They did this so much that, when I first picked up an iPad, I was surprised by how light it was because all the reviews had got me to expect something much heavier.)  But the iPad 2 was much lighter, and it looked slighter and easier to hold.

The iPad was too hard to grip and hold: so the iPad 2, as well as being lighter, had an accessory cover that could be used to prop it up for reading.

The iPad was dismissed as being only for reading and consuming content, not for doing anything creative with: the iPad 2 launched in conjunction with dedicated versions of products like Garage Band and iMovie.

Potential tablet-producing rivals liked to talk about the inferior speed of the iPad, so the iPad 2 had a faster core. Even though it didn’t make an enormous difference to the usability of the product, the speed boost comprehensively eliminated a nominal reason to buy anyone else’s product.

Everything about the iPad 2 was an exercise in eliminating objections. Other than simply not being able to afford it, almost all of the factual objections to the iPad were dealt with in its successor.

Consolidating strength

The iPad 2 is the most impressive product, in terms of design and launch expertise, that I have ever seen from a company.

Without doing anything radically new, Apple turned a product that was brilliant, but received with some uncertainty, into a product that was almost impossible to refuse on any grounds other than cost.

The launch of the iPad 2 was the moment when it became apparent that Apple was flattening its competition. After the original iPad came out, I thought—as clearly a lot of other people did—that “the tablet” was, generically, going to be a huge thing, and I started plotting the potential fortunes of all the existing smartphone companies in terms of how well I imagined they might do in the “tablet space”.  (I own the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I really like it: I certainly hoped Samsung would do well with it.)  I overestimated all of them, and I certainly overestimated my own estimation abilities.

The iPad 2 marked the point of failure for anyone like me who was trying to understand the market by analogy from established PC or mobile phone manufacturers.

The “iPad 3”

The sort of historical alternation between product types I’ve alluded to suggests that the iPad 3 should be an outreach product—one that looks or feels substantially different, or that has some really novel feature to promote.

I’ve no way to know, but I suspect that isn’t really going to be the case. The iPad 2 is still so far ahead of any alternatives in the market that there is no appreciable competition to attack through novelty. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have one yet, but the iPad 2 has been so successful that it’s reasonable to expect the speed of its outflow to continue: nothing substantial has changed for the worse in the environment it has to work in.

Presumably the iPad 3 will have the double-resolution screen that many commentators have talked about, and will have voice control. Beyond that, anything new that Apple include might almost be seen as a gift to their future customers. They don’t need to do it.