Category Archives: Computers/Internet

Tech Giants’ Core Strategies

The Verge makes an interesting point about Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda: for the most part, Microsoft doesn’t care what hardware you run their stuff on, they just want you to buy the software. So it’s less likely to be about trying to gain Xbox exclusives and more likely to be about getting more games for Game Pass.

It reminds me of a blog post I read a few years back comparing the core businesses of various major tech players:

  • Apple sells hardware, and their software and media stores are a way to give you something to do with the hardware.
  • Microsoft sells software, and the hardware is to give you something to run their software on.
  • Google sells ads on services, and their hardware, operating systems, and software (Android, Pixel, Chromebooks, Chrome, etc. ) are there to connect you to their services.
  • Amazon sells stuff, and their hardware is a way to sell you virtual (and sometimes physical) stuff.

That’s why, for instance, you can run Gmail on anything, and Microsoft Office on almost anything, but iTunes, the main Apple program that actually runs on a non-Apple system, is designed primarily to hook you up with an iPhone (previously an iPod). And it’s why you can read Kindle eBooks on a Kindle device, or a Kindle app on an Android or iOS device, and they make it really easy to buy e-books from them, but really inconvenient to import anything from another eBook store.

Facebook is similar to Google in that their core strategy is a service with ads, and their apps and (when they branch out into it with things like Portal) hardware are ways to keep you using their services. Heck, they’re even tying the Oculus headsets to Facebook accounts now.

The post predates the rise of smart speakers and doorbells…but remember how the Echo was originally mostly a way to voice-order things through Amazon? Or Amazon Key, whose primary purpose was to allow delivery services to drop off packages inside your house so you wouldn’t have to worry about porch pirates?

Plus of course everyone wants to sell you subscriptions now!

And yet…it still fits remarkably well.

Minecraft Bedrock Beta vs. the Microsoft Store

There’s got to be a better way to do this. Actually, I know there’s a better way to do this, because Minecraft already does it in Java Edition.

How to try out snapshots in Minecraft Java Edition:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Change the version in the launcher.

How to try out betas in Minecraft Windows 10 Edition:

  • Log in as someone who Microsoft knows is an adult, because Xbox Insider only allows 18 and up.
  • Sign up for Xbox Insider
  • Sign up for the Minecraft beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it installs the beta.

How to go back to the stable version:

  • Leave the beta in Xbox Insider
  • Download updates on your Microsoft Store apps and hope it goes back to the other version.
  • Back up your saved games, which are buried deep in a hidden folder with cryptic names. Seriously, they’re in $homedir\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MinecraftUWP_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\games\com.mojang\
  • Uninstall Minecraft from every account on the computer, which will also erase all of your saved worlds, which is why you needed to back them up first. (oops.)
  • Reinstall Minecraft
  • Restore your saved games

There’s a known issue where leaving the beta doesn’t always work — especially if there are multiple accounts on the computer that have Minecraft installed. The only reliable fix so far is to uninstall every copy of Minecraft (Bedrock edition) on the computer, in every user’s account.

I’m just glad I found out that uninstalling the app deletes all your worlds before having to uninstall it on the kid’s login!

Oop Store

The Microsoft Store for Windows really feels a lot more fragile to me than either the standard run-an-installer paradigm or the Linux style package manager. I haven’t dug into its inner workings, but it seems like something that came out of the mobile and console ecosystems…and hasn’t been completely adapted to running on a general computer.

For example: Applications are only accessible for the user who installed them, like on Android. But sometimes it downloads the app all over again, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not even clear how much is stored system-wide vs. per-user.

As near as I can tell, the Microsoft Store will only download the application if it’s newer than a version that’s already on the computer. So if the beta is newer than the stable release, and the beta still exists somewhere on the computer (like in another user’s account), it’ll just use that one instead of re-downloading it.

Unsaved

But regardless of how it handles multiple installations on the same computer, it’s inexcusable that there is literally no way to reinstall a broken copy of the game and keep your potentially years of progress on a world without first digging into a hidden folder, then through seven levels of folders with generic or cryptic names just to find your saved games and manually copying your saved games before you uninstall and reinstall the game.

It shouldn’t delete your games (at least not without asking).

And it should keep them somewhere you can find more easily.

How to disconnect OneDrive on macOS from an extra account that doesn’t exist anymore.

On my work computer I used to have two OneDrive accounts, one Business and one that Microsoft considered “Personal” even though it was used for work files on my work address. Eventually I deleted the extra “personal” account since we were consolidating.

But every time I restarted the MacBook, it would try to connect to both OneDrive accounts for syncing. I could quit the extra instance of OneDrive and forget about it until the next reboot, but there’s no way to disconnect it without logging in – and the account didn’t exist anymore.

Searching wasn’t helpful, since mostly I found info on how to disconnect from an account that did still exist. Or how to edit the registry. Not much help on a Mac. Even uninstalling and reinstalling OneDrive didn’t do it, because it just pulled both sets of credentials out of my keychain again.

I finally found an answer in one of the newer answers on this forum thread. The main answer wasn’t helpful, but it turns out that, hidden inside the resource folder of the OneDrive app package, there’s a command to reset OneDrive! Yeah, you have to reconnect to the account that does still exist, but that’s both easy and fast!

In brief:

  1. Close OneDrive
  2. Find OneDrive in the Applications Folder
  3. Right-click on it and choose Show Package Contents
  4. Go into the Contents/Resources folder
  5. The file will be either ResetOneDriveApp.command or ResetOneDriveAppStandalone.command. Double-click on it to run the command.
  6. Go back to OneDrive and reconfigure the account that you do still have!

Thanks, Nevyn42, for solving the problem!

Online Permanence: Host Your Own or Use a Service?

Yahoo Groups is shutting down, taking years’ worth of users’ writing and discussions with it. It’s the latest reminder that if you don’t host it yourself, your stuff is at the mercy of someone else’s business decisions. Or whims.

And yet…

My old blog posts are full of dead links to sites where people were hosting their own stuff, but it’s gone now. I’m sure some was taken down deliberately, but I’m sure there’s also a lot that was lost because they couldn’t maintain it.

Self-hosting isn’t just a matter of knowledge. It’s a matter of time. It’s a matter of being able to update things that need to be changed (like TLS certs or software). And there are ongoing costs: Domain name registration. Hosting service, if you’re using a hosting provider. Bandwidth if you’re using your own server.

And if for some reason you can’t keep those ongoing costs going, guess what? Your stuff goes offline. But you’re still on Facebook!

There’s a character in Les Misérables, Pere Mabeuf, who gets left out of most adaptations. He’s an old man who, for a time, eked out a living from a book he’d published years earlier. Eventually he’s so strapped for cash that he has to sell the printing plates, so even if someone wanted to buy a print run, he couldn’t do it. Essentially, he was self-hosting his work until he couldn’t afford to anymore.

Imagine one of these scenarios:

  • You’ve got some nice photo gallery or CMS, and you can afford the storage and bandwidth…and then financial trouble hits.
  • You have a site for a hobby that you don’t keep up with anymore. You don’t mind leaving it online, but it gets to be a pain to keep going, and starts feeling like it’s not worth the effort.
  • You die, and your family has to decide how long to leave the FreedomBox plugged into the network.

On one hand, a social network site might close down like Google+, purge accounts like Tumblr, change pricing drastically like Flickr, lock down access like Instagram or Photobucket, change their algorithms for what people see like Facebook… On the other, you can keep using a service like Mastodon or Twitter or Facebook even if you lose the resources to maintain your software, your VPS, your internet connection that allows incoming HTTPS, etc.

The trade-off is not just convenience vs. control. It’s host your own stuff to protect it from the whims and misfortune of (and exploitation by) third-party services. Or use the cheap/free third-party services to protect your stuff from your own misfortune.

I still think, on balance, it’s better to host your own online presence if you can, at least the parts you want to be long-term. Have your conversations where other people are, and put your art or work somewhere you control. But as a backup, I think every CMS should incorporate an “Export to static site” feature*. That way, you (or your next of kin) can quickly produce a fully-functional static site to toss on cheap shared hosting as an archive.

*You can use wget -m in a pinch, but you probably also want to remove things like comment forms in the process.

Instagram Getting Even More Hostile to the Web

Instagram is now requiring you to sign in to view public profiles. You can still look at (for example), my Instagram profile, but once you scroll down a few pages, it pops up a login form and you’re stuck.

A spokesperson said, “This is to help people see photos on Instagram and then understand how to get the best Instagram experience by being part of the community, connecting and interacting with the people and things they love”

Oh, please.

This isn’t to help people.

This is to help Instagram.

This is to force people to sign up for Instagram just so they can see users’ photos that they have posted publicly.

Admittedly, Instagram has always kept the web at a bit of a distance. When it launched, they only had an app. Later you could follow a link to a photo on the web, but it was a dead end. Eventually you could actually browse your timeline, search, and look at people’s photo collections on a web browser. (Edit: Though they’ve never let you link out from a photo back to the rest of the web, unless you buy ads.)

And now they’re moving to close themselves off again.

I wrote a few months ago about how I’ve been weighing alternatives. As Facebook exerts more and more control, it becomes less appealing to use. And that’s not even getting into the train wreck of “influencer” culture.

Since then I’ve mostly stopped visiting Instagram, either to view photos or to post them. When I do, it’s frustrating. I’ve been posting more at Pixelfed (lead dev @dansup shared a link to the article at the top) and Mastodon, or just bypassing social networks entirely and going straight to Flickr. You can look at my complete archives on all of those sites, incidentally.

I’m not at the point of deleting my account yet, but I’m thinking it might be time to pull back more actively. Pare down the list of people I’m following, at least, in hopes that it will be a little more welcoming and useful when I do visit. Though I did that with Tumblr and haven’t been back much anyway.

And maybe I should start clearing out my archive. If people are only going to see a dozen or two of my photos, I should at least make sure they’re good ones, right?