Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Surf

Now, I'm invariably opposed to anything that prevents the spread of information (even when it comes to more cheesy magazines and shows about celebrity antics than I can count). So when I first heard of the military blocking access to a handful of Web sites like MySpace and YouTube, and reportedly tightening restrictions on soldiers' blog contents, I couldn't help but cringe.

As I dug a bit deeper, my opinion changed a bit. In this case, I think it amounts to a sensible measure. While the official reason for these restrictions is freeing up bandwidth on Department of Defense systems, there had to have been some thought about limiting the amount of potentially damaging information, however inadvertently distributed, going out over these types of sites. As sneaky as the bad guys are these days, every bit of caution is well-warranted.

The days of "loose lips sink ships" are not gone, but they've certainly changed. Now, with laptops, e-mail, blogs and Webcasts, our soldiers are able to communicate with the outside world like never before. And they'll still be able to check in at home over the Web; this ban only applies to government computers, not soldiers' personal computers.

What do you think about the Pentagon's response -- wise watchdog or senseless censorship? Let me know at llow@redmondmag.com.

Ship First, Shoot Later
With so much coming out of Microsoft this year, it's easy to forget what a multifaceted giant our favorite company is. It's not just system software, operating systems and office applications. It's also games, consumer products and personal electronics.

Just after "breaking" the news that Longhorn will actually be called Windows Server (thanks, Bill, I was losing sleep over that one) the company announced its release schedule for the next version of its blockbuster game Halo. Halo 3 will be available Sept. 25.

I have to wonder if Microsoft blows ship dates on the consumer side as often as it does on the professional side. And do consumers care as much? Does speculation run as rampant for gamers as it does for the IT troops in magazines, Web sites and e-mail newsletters? What do you think? Fill me in at llow@redmondmag.com.

All Hands on Deck
Among Microsoft's many competitive relationships, perhaps none are as testy as the one with Oracle. The SQL Server vs. Oracle battle plays out in the largest and most lucrative of enterprises. There's one area in which Oracle goes unchallenged by Redmond: the Americas Cup, the granddaddy of all sailboat races.

This is a huge personal passion of Oracle's skipper Larry Ellison. In fact, they're at it right now. In the waters off the coast of Spain, the BMW Oracle boat just beat the Italian boat to even out the score in a best-of-nine race semifinal series. The final races to determine the Cup winner run from June 23 to July 4. Even though it's bankrolled by Ellison, the exec you love to hate, it's good to see the U.S. boat out in front.

Perhaps we'll see a Microsoft boat someday -- a billowing spinnaker with the multihued Windows logo? It's often been said that if you have to ask how much yacht racing costs, then you can't afford it. C'mon, Bill, if anyone has the coin to float an America's Cup contender and give Larry a run for his money, it has to be you.

Back at home, Oracle just scooped up Agile Software for $495 million. Oracle has been on a tear buying up smaller software vendors as it continues to do battle with SAP. What do you think about competition by acquisition? Microsoft has certainly done its share of sailing in that pond. Let me know what you think at llow@redmondmag.com.

Mailbag: Using USB, More
In the wake of Microsoft and SanDisk's announcement last week that they were teaming up to produce a new breed of flash drives, Doug asked readers how they deal with the logistics of having more than one computer. Here are a few of your answers:

I'm currently using a USB flash drive, but in the very near future it'll be Windows Home Server. SBS is another great idea for people who need Exchange Server in the home. While it may seem like overkill, SBS is inexpensive and easy to administer. What could be better than the combination of an Exchange mailbox and Outlook Cached Exchange Mode to keep everything synched between multiple computers? Not to mention public folders and SharePoint for all the family stuff, and secure, simple remote access.
-Dave

Use Briefcase to keep a common set of data? Good luck. I kept my data synchronized with FolderMatch prior to Windows Vista. Now I'm trying to use Vista's SyncToy. My attempts to use Briefcase in the past led to complete frustration. SyncToy seems to be a small improvement over Briefcase. FolderMatch is well worth the license price, and likely what I'll go back to after giving SyncToy a few more passes.
-Bruce

I had a 2GB SanDisk Titanium USB ('thumb') drive that my wife gave me for Christmas. I say 'had' because I got so angry I threw it away.

The drive encryption that ships with the device was, of course, designed for Windows XP. It wasn't too surprising that when I got my new laptop in March that Vista wasn't able to use the drive; it couldn't auto-launch the SanDisk software that protects the device. So, I dutifully went out to the SanDisk Web site to download the Vista version of the drivers. Like an idiot, I left the drive in the USB port while I was installing the new SanDisk software. In the middle of the SanDisk software installation (this was NOT Vista that did this), a message box popped up: "Now formatting your new drive." The SanDisk installation proceeded to wipe my SanDisk USB drive clean. Gone. No more data.

What kind of install program automatically formats a drive volume?! There was no "Click OK to proceed" option offered.

What made me most angry was that I knew better. I have been an IT professional for nearly 15 years, managing teams of hundreds of programmers at this point. I warn my folks all the time about just this sort of thing. I wasn't more careful, I suppose, because I let my guard down; it was SanDisk, a name I trusted. I won't be buying another SanDisk device because of this experience, but I also won't buy one because the U3 capability just didn't jack me up. It's not a feature I use. It might be handy if you don't own a computer and are forced to use public devices at the library, or something, but that's hardly the majority of users. To me, it seems like a solution in search of a market, rather than the other way around.
-Scott

And Philip adds his 2 cents to the Longhorn naming debacle:
Do people forget that if Windows 95 actually entered the market on time, in 1993, it would have been named "Chicago"?
-Philip
Got something to add? Let us have it! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to llow@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Lafe Low is the editorial liaison for ECG Events.

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