October 23, 2008

Current State of the Legal Profession

Ron Friedmann is attending the ALM / Incisive Law Firm Leaders Conference in New York this week, and is blogging several sessions. Yesterday, he posted his notes from the first session: Current State of the Legal Profession.

Those who believe the old cliché that law firms are recession-proof should read it. Twice. His notes from the session cover a number of topics near and dear to firms' management -- leverage rates, pricing, quality, compensation alignment, and more.

I found the comment interesting that while GC's uniformly complain about price, their will to change is anything but uniform:

In a lot of matters and for a lot of clients, controlling cost is paramount but there is still an elite group of matters (e.g., investigations), where litigation budgets still will not matter very much. But many firms have grown so much that they really cannot focus on this sweet spot. So some larger firms find that they have to compete on cost. But surveys show that while GC complaining is universal, their will to act, to change, to exercise control is far from universal. Many clients are not willing to act on costs if they get decent service and results. If you look at the current crisis, clients have had a flight to quality (that is, high price firms). So cost-sensitivity may not be as acute as some think or say.
Thus providing high-quality services while anticipating their future needs, and being responsive and accessible are still some of the best ways to retain clients in good and bad times. If they're happy with the results, it's psychologically more difficult for someone to change providers based purely on cost differences and promises.

Also check out Ron's great posts on other sessions, David Maister on Passion, People and Principles, and Growth Strategies for Success in Large Law Firms.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 17, 2008

Donna Payne's BlackBerry Tips & Shortcuts

While the iPhone is all the rage for consumers wanting the ultimate smartphone and entertainment device, many businesses still won't support them until they're more enterprise- and security-friendly (some improvements in those areas are on the way). So BlackBerries are still the main staple for corporate and firm smartphones, at least for a while yet.

Techno.Diva Donna Payne just published a very cool BlackBerry tips column on Law.com. She covers both beginning keyboard shortcuts and Super Geek Tips to help you get the most out of your CrackBerry, including links to several other great BlackBerry resource and tip sites.

Here's another tip: Bookmark them on your BlackBerry's web browser for easy access on the go.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 16, 2008

Beware, Many Browsers are Vulnerable to "Clickjacking"

Here's a truly disturbing thought: "Submit" buttons (and other buttons, such as "Print", "Next Page", etc.) are very common in web pages. That "Submit" button you think you're clicking on in your web browser could be redirected to to another web site or perform just about any other type of action. This is known as "clickjacking", where the attacking web site steals your mouse clicks. What's worse, all of the popular web browsers are being reported as vulnerable: IE, Firefox, Safari, and others. Ouch.

The problem is, clickjacking takes many forms. Some require javascript, and some don't. Some of the vulnerabilities show up in other web-related add-ons, such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight. One important way to help stop at least some of the clickjacking attempts is to disable javascript in your browser. The huge downside is that because javascript is present on so many sites today, disabling it just cripples your web experience, and possibly a number of web apps. So instead of disabling javascript for all sites, it's better to enable JavaScript only for approved sites. The same goes for ActiveX, which has long been a security challenge. But again, that's a lot of sites for most of us, so it pretty much stinks either way you look at it for a supposed "quick fix".

Per Stuart Johnston's column in Windows Secrets, here's how clickjacking works:

In clickjacking, surreptitious buttons are "floated" behind the actual buttons that you see on a Web site. When you click the button, you're not triggering the function that you expected. Instead, the click is routed to the bad guy's substitute link.

Robert Hansen, CEO of SecTheory, and Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer of WhiteHat Security, are the bug sleuths who discovered this latest generation of potential security glitches.

They point out that even users who watch their systems like a hawk can be victimized.

"There's really no way to know if what you're looking at is real," Hansen told Windows Secrets.

In fact, Hansen and Grossman found so many new ways to attack your PC - and your Mac - that they categorize these threats as a "new class" of exploits. While this class includes scripting attacks, it also affects scriptable plug-ins such as Microsoft ActiveX controls, Skoudis said.

Clickjacking isn't new. In fact, it dates back to at least 2002, Hansen said. What's new is the range of browser vulnerabilities that make clickjacking possible.

You can also read Robert Hansen's blog posting, "Clickjacking Details", which describes it in much more technical detail. It also lists specific types of clickjacking exploits, and each of their statuses in terms of whether they are still unresolved, have been resolved, or will be fixed in a future version of the software mentioned.

Probably the best advice to take away from this is to be careful which web neighborhoods you're visiting, just like in the real world. Mainstream companies usually don't want the bad press and customer reactions, so it's more likely going to be the fringe sites that would implement these security exploits.

The trick with many exploits is that they somehow have to get you to go there. So don't click on web site links contained in your incoming e-mail, unless you're absolutely sure they are legitimate (which can also be somewhat difficult to tell these days). I can see where a lot of phishing e-mail scams would send you an official-looking e-mail with a link to an official-looking but totally fake web site, which would then either steal your personal data or employ clickjacking or other tactics to accomplish their nefarious goals.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 13, 2008

Your Virtual Space or Mine?

Many professionals are listed on LinkedIn, which caters to the professional crowd. However, should you also participate in MySpace or Facebook for networking, or are they just for the young crowd? The Snark answers the question, "Will You Be My Virtual Friend?" on Law.com. While the Snark's style is perhaps best described as an acquired taste, you might be surprised by some of the answers.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 10, 2008

CNET Blogs: Why the iPod Should Die

A couple of interesting CNET blog posts explaining why the iPod has to die before we'll see any serious innovation in the music player and PMP (portable media player) space:

Why I can't wait for the iPod to die
Posted by Don Reisinger

iPod dying? It's already dead
Posted by Matt Rosoff

From Don Reisinger's post:
When one company makes it big with a product in the tech industry, every other company in the market wants to try its luck in the same space. Because of that, we've seen countless iPod-wannabes like the Zune, the iRiver Clix, and many more. None were able to vanquish the leader, and few were even able to make a dent. And yet, all these companies still try to make their iPod competitors work.

Here's a clue: it'll never happen if you do the same thing Apple does.

[...]

Instead, I think the iPod is the main reason why innovation is at a standstill in the PMP market and why we're not being satisfied nearly enough by the right devices.

As Apple continues to sell millions of iPods, it realizes that it has no reason to change tactics and try something new. And as executives at other companies look at the state of the economy and their company's own financial health, they think it's better to offer a PMP that will appeal to a small percentage of the market than take a risk and try something new.

And therein lies the rub. How can we get out of this vicious cycle if neither the leader nor the others competing in the market want to change anything?

The way I see it, nothing will change until Apple experiences a year of declining iPod sales. Once that happens, its competitors will panic and try to be the first to the market with something innovative and Apple will be forced to make serious changes to the iPod or come up with something new altogether. And once that happens, the market should start booming with innovation once again.

As I said, interesting. I've been eyeing up my next portable entertainment purchase, and have been considering these for the following reasons:

iPod Touch 32GB:
Leader of the iPod pack for me. Finally, a flash storage version that offers more than the Nano, enough for hopefully a somewhat decent collection of music, podcasts, and movies when traveling. The larger screen and App Store -- big pluses. The only reason I didn't mention the iPhone is that it's still tied to AT&T (nee Cingular). I've had Cingular in the past and was very dissatisfied with both their lack of coverage and customer service. If Verizon Wireless offered the iPhone, then it'd be a no-brainer for me, but I'm not going to wait until whenever the iPhone becomes non-exclusive -- 2010? We'll have all new devices by then. Touch's main drawbacks: No camera, and it's flash memory is still lagging behind the hard drive storage of the iPod Classic. Apple, I want to be able to bring along my entire music collection and a decent number of movies! Give me a few hundred Gigs and I'll be happy. (Seriously.)

iPod Classic 120GB:
Purely from the standpoint of the massive storage -- enough to bring along LOTS and LOTS of music and movies, but the screen is still a tad too small for getting into a movie I'm watching on it. The problem with the Classic is that by today's standards, it lacks a wireless connectivity feature, it's too big physically, yet too small of a screen, for what it offers and costs overall. It was great in its heyday, though, but it's been surpassed by the iPhone and iPod Touch. It also just doesn't have the same cachet it held just a few years ago.

iPod Nano (newest redesign -- long and thin):
Not sure what to make of this one as it doesn't offer too much of any one thing, other than a nice pocket size. The revised screen dimensions are a little better. I like the accelerometer sensor so you can just shake it a few times to shuffle songs without pressing buttons. The Genius playlist feature is nice, but I believe that's more a function of the new iTunes software than the player. Definitely not enough storage capacity for a true PMP, but 16GB is enough to take a decent set of music along.

Slacker G2 (2nd Generation Player):
While the original Slacker portable player reminded me a lot of the Amazon Kindle eBook reader (big and boxy), the G2 looks a lot more compelling. Note that Slacker calls it a "Personal Radio Player", not a music or mp3 player. What the Kindle did for books, the Slacker G2 does for music via a Wi-Fi connection. It's clearly not an iPod-killer, and isn't aimed as such. It takes a completely different approach as it's focused on serving you what you want to hear, exploring music you don't own (yet), and serving up lots of background information on the groups and artists as your're listening to them.

In my opinion, despite the lazy-themed name, Slacker Radio is the BIGGEST innovation in internet radio with a great tie-in to a portable music player. Granted, it's not an iPod nor a regular internet radio provider, as Slacker has created their own niche. It's aimed squarely at the die-hard music lovers (no movies). So if you're a music-loving-first kind of consumer who doesn't want to be tied down to just the music you own, you need to check out Slacker's online radio player, downloadable player for your PC, and their redesigned portable player. Stay tuned for a post on how much I really enjoy Slacker Radio, and why it's the biggest innovation in internet radio and portable music that I've seen in a long time.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink

October 09, 2008

Should You "Go 64-Bit" with Vista or Windows 7?

I subscribe to Windows Secrets, a weekly tech newsletter by industry veterans that usually provides good technical information on all things Windows. However, last week I read a column by Stuart J. Johnston that recommends that you don't "go Vista" unless you implement the 64-bit version instead of the more common 32-bit version. My take is that sounds great if you're ready to buy all new hardware and software, have the expanded budget to do so, don't have a lot of critical-use 32-bit software, including drivers, and don't mind creating additional tech support issues.

That's a lot of "if's", isn't it? The catch is that it would require you to buy a PC with a 64-bit compatible BIOS, CPU, chipset, OS, device drivers, and the programs you use. Lack any one of those, and you could experience problems that range from mildly annoying to very serious.

This is borne out by Mr. Johnston's follow-up column where he received very negative real-world feedback from some 64-bit Vista users. You can click through to the article so I won't repeat here all the problems encountered. While 64-bit Vista can run a number of 32-bit programs in a 32-bit compatibility mode, you could experience some quirks and problems with them, as several Windows Secrets readers reported. My favorite was the poor guy who found this out the hard way:

Another glitch Heiker continues to confront is a real doozy: with no explanation in sight, his 64-bit Vista PC has accumulated some 23 million Registry entries. No, that's not a typo - 23 million.

"I brought this to Microsoft's attention and there's no solution to it," he said. "Apparently, a Registry entry is made each time a 32-bit application tries to update the Vista-64 Registry ... duplicating Registry entries a huge number of times."

Despite Heiker's long list of complaints and multiple contacts with Microsoft support, little has changed. "They haven't fixed a single problem that I've reported," he adds.

23 million registry entries would likely result in a very large registry database that would become fragmented and would probably slow down your PC where you'd notice it.

By the way, this isn't just another negative issue tied to Vista. Windows XP's 64-bit version has its issues too, and it wasn't even as refined as Vista's 64-bit incarnation. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for improving our computing capabilities and 64-bit systems look promising when all the right pieces are in place. We're getting there.

However, while the hardware world has been catching up with 64-bit components over the past year or so, the software side has definitely lagged behind in this regard. Nearly two years after Vista was released, and definitely many more years since Windows XP 64-bit came out, a significant number of programs and device drivers still are only available in 32-bit versions, including Office 2007, arguably the most common group of business applications used daily by millions of people (I'm including all its prior versions still in use today). From the 2007 Microsoft Office system requirements web page:

Note: The 2007 Microsoft Office system programs client is a 32-bit application and can run on a Windows 64-bit platform (Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista) but there may be some feature limitations as noted in the system requirements below.
In theory, the biggest improvements from installing the 64-bit version of either XP or Vista on a compatible 64-bit computer platform is increased speed in calculations/processing, some security improvements, and the ability to access more than 3GB of memory by the OS. Notice that I said by the OS, because some of those who have gone 64-bit early on have found that 32-bit programs lack this ability. You see, 32-bit computing is limited to accessing a maximum of 4GB of RAM. Furthermore, roughly the last 1GB is not usable by programs, but is shared by the system with other devices. So even on a PC with 4GB of memory installed, you might only get to use somewhere between 2.7GB and 3.5GB for your OS and software.

For most users, this is not a problem. For instance, I'm running the 32-bit version of Vista Ultimate (the one with all the extras), and even when I have lots of open programs, including photo editors and media players, I haven't seen it come even close to maxing out the 2GB on my laptop. Now if you're running some really big bloated apps simultaneously (games, multimedia development, video processing, etc.), then I can see where you'd want more. However, most legal and business users are not in that category. And regarding the 64-bit speed increase mentioned above, some experts have said that regular users may not notice it all that much, as it's likely to benefit those who are doing some serious crunching with their PC. DBA's, data and financial analysts, and those working with large multimedia apps would all likely fall within the group who would probably experience the most benefit from running a 64-bit OS.

But again, for most users, the ability to have some likely modest speed increases and more usable memory is going to greatly pale against the need to be able to install legacy programs and drivers, have them run without compatibility problems, and without having to shell out a lot more money to buy all new 64-bit versions (if they even exist).

The bottom line is that 64-bit processing is the direction the industry has been heading. Over time, regular end users will likely find it to be a better experience overall as applications and drivers are either updated or recoded from the ground up. However, I've been running Vista Ultimate 32-bit well over a year now with precious few issues, none of them serious (I'm as surprised by that as anyone), and have found that it is by far the more compatible way to run Vista with legacy apps and drivers.

So my best advice, today, is that if you're buying a new PC, you'll want to keep your options open. The good news is that a new 64-bit PC should be able to run a completely 32-bit software platform (OS, drivers, programs, etc.). This provides the option to upgrade to a 64-bit OS and other software later while maintaining compatibility with your current apps and drivers today. The downside is upgrading later involves some additional time and expense, but it also gives you the most flexibility. Personally, I wouldn't move to a 64-bit desktop Windows OS just yet because of the mix of software that most people and organizations have accumulated over time, and can't afford to part with yet -- at least until they can find suitable 64-bit replacements for the most critical ones. This is particularly true for anyone using legacy peripheral devices and their accompanying drivers. Another key point is that as we continue to move to web-based apps and working in the cloud, I'm not sure that the pain and costs associated with going all 64-bit are justified, at least not yet.

64-bit computing is certainly being touted as the way to go, we'll get there eventually, and it certainly has some notable advantages. However, as a practical matter the existing 32-bit Windows OS platforms will serve the average user for the foreseeable future (meaning the next 2-3 years, which is what the average PC lifecycle is). Many new dual- and quad-core PCs are pretty fast already. Notice I'm only talking about the choice to use 64-bit Windows, and not the hardware. I agree buying an all 64-bit hardware system that's backwards compatible makes a lot sense these days.

Perhaps by the time Windows 7 gets released the software world will have evolved to update most of our apps and new hardware drivers to 64-bit. That would be very nice indeed, but until then I think most people and organizations will choose the OS version that best fits their user base, tasks, applications, and driver mix. If that can be achieved with a 64-bit OS without creating lot of support headaches and additional costs, great. But if not, I think they'd be wise to stay with a 32-bit OS until that changes. This is an area where the best fit and mix today will certainly change with advancements in the hardware and software industries, so we'll just need to remain informed to be best prepared in making various tech choices.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink