Category Archives: Things that are bad

The perils of using free services

RIP TweetDeck

Twitter is pulling the plug on the Windows version of its popular TweetDeck application, pushing users to switch to the web-based version. Although they claim otherwise, the reason is simple: web applications are easier to monetize.

Twitter purchased TweetDeck in 2011 because users found its interface much more useful than the Twitter web interface, and were switching in large numbers. This translated into a loss of advertising revenue for Twitter. There were immediate predictions that Twitter would kill off TweetDeck, and that’s finally happening.

For some users, switching to the web-based TweetDeck will not be a problem. The two interfaces are virtually identical. But having a compact, separate application has several advantages: I can configure it to start automatically with my computer; I can leave it running all the time without hurting my computer’s performance; and it’s not – like all web-based apps – inherently fragile. So I’m looking at alternatives. If I find one I like, I’ll post about it.

Mandrill email no longer free

If you use Mandrill’s email service, you should start looking for an alternative. Unless you think $20 per month seems like good value to send a few emails.

I originally started using Mandrill because my Internet Service Provider’s email service was increasingly less willing to process email from domains I host, including If you don’t host your own domains, and you don’t send large quantities of email, you’re unlikely to ever need a ‘transactional email’ service like Mandrill.

Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to Mandrill. Right now I’m evaluating MailGun, which is free for up to 10,000 emails per month, and supports DKIM and SPF, technologies that help to identify legitimate senders and reduce spam.

Critical security flaw affects millions of systems

Here we go again. Researchers have discovered (actually more like rediscovered) a very bad flaw in the commonly-used GNU C Library, also known as glibc.

The flaw has existed, undiscovered, since 2008. It was discovered and reported to the glibc maintainers in July of 2015 (CVE-2015-7547), but nothing was done about it until Google researchers re-discovered the flaw and reported it on a public security blog.

The glibc maintainers reacted to the Google revelations by developing and publishing a patch. It’s not clear why such a serious vulnerability was not fixed sooner.

But that’s not the end of the story. Any computer or device that runs some flavour of Linux, including most of the world’s web servers and many routers, is potentially vulnerable. Individual software applications that are compiled with glibc are also potentially vulnerable.

Although it’s safe to assume that diligent sysadmins will update their Linux computers, tracking down all the affected software will take time. The Linux firmware running on routers and other network devices will be updated much more slowly, if at all. All of this opens up many exploitation possibilities for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that there are several mitigating factors. Many routers don’t use glibc. In some cases, default settings will prevent exploits from working. Android devices are not vulnerable. Still, this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Update 2016Feb20: Dan Kaminsky just posted his analysis of the glibc vulnerability. It’s very technical, but if you’re looking for a deeper dive into this subject, it’s a great place to start. Dan helpfully explains why it’s difficult to predict just how bad things will get.

Disappointment: Google decides not to add a sidebar to Chrome

Chrome is a pretty good browser. I recommend it with few reservations. I even use it myself. But my use of Chrome is limited to a few sites that just work better in Chrome than in Firefox – at least for me.

The main reason I don’t use Chrome for most of my browsing, despite the fact that I really don’t want to use Firefox either, is the lack of a sidebar. No feature is more frequently requested for Chrome. And yet Google has resisted adding one.

Why is a sidebar such a big deal? Like many other people, I use the sidebar to show my bookmarks, in a nested tree format. This is an extremely efficient way to manage a lot of bookmarks. There’s just not enough room in the horizontal toolbar to do this; I can add folders and subfolders to the toolbar to create a drop-down menu effect, but I want the bookmarks I’m currently working with to stay on the screen and not disappear when I click one.

And I’m not the only one. Just look at the comments and votes for this bug in Chrome’s bug tracking system, and in this post in the Chrome support forum.

If you look at that bug, you’ll see that Google started the work to add a sidebar. But they must have run into a big problem, because today the bug was updated to the status ‘WON’T FIX’. That means we are unlikely to ever see a sidebar in Chrome. The update provides very little explanation, and points to the general Chrome FAQ. Presumably what they are referring to is the word ‘simplicity’ in the second point.

And so concludes another chapter in my love-hate relationship with Google. I think Google is terrific, and I depend on their services, but this is a huge disappointment.

Update: the WebKit-based Opera browser also doesn’t include a useful bookmark sidebar, but I’ve just discovered a sidebar extension called V7 Bookmarks, and so far I’m loving it. It looks like Opera will be my new main browser when I finally can’t stand Firefox’s bloat and instability any more.