Tag Archives: Jabber

OTR encryption denied widespread acceptance

It is so sad to see that many clients do not support OTR enryption, still. It is supported by some, like Pidgin, Adium, Kopete. But other big clients like Psi and Gajim will not support it. Gajim states ” won’t support OTR because it hasn’t a XEP.

OTR is not a clean and perfect standard, thats right. But its the only encryption available that support deniability and is usable for instant messaging. Therefore it would have been nice if all clients would have included it ASAP.

I mean if you think OTR is bad create something new that is actually better. But jabber users now wait since many years to encrypt sessions between different clients. At least GNOME, Windows and KDE user can select Kopete and Pidgin as prefered clients. and Adium for MacOs does it also.

What the programmers of the other clients do not seem to see is that as long as there is no encryption people are forced to communicate in plain text. That should be an absolute NO in 2009. And they forget that OTR is not a XMPP standard. So if there is no XEP that might be bad, but still I use OTR every day, it works very nice with Pidgin – but if I have to communicate with other clients that people prefer I am forced to not encrypt. And that makes me angry.

So this is not about how good OTR is – its about what you give users to communicate. The Telepathy people also think encryption should be a very important thing. For me encryption is second important just behind the fact that a client can handle Jabber. Right now there is no Jabber only client that can handle otr also besides Mcabber (console client). I dont even conside using a client that does not support Jabber and OTR.

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Rediscovering microblogging

I, just now, am rediscovering the use of microblogging. I have looked at Twitter an microblogging in the past and found it unnecessary. I had an identi.ca account for some months now, but I did not use it very often. But I had the feeling that it could be useful.

I think it is. I have looked at Twitter and how it was used. Twitter is the Myspace of microblogging. In Germany also politicians and VIPS use Twitter now and its really crap what most of them do. This is because this way microblogging is just a way to follow VIPs. Another usage seems to be to communicate with your friends. This can be partly useful, but more for things that should be public like organizing a barbecue. Still then the big question is if you want the whole world to follow your stupid little barbecue?

There is yet another way to use microblogging. That is as a replacement of IRC chat. In the past people met in IRC to organize events, then a chat log was saved and published. But this is not asynchronous. People did use IRC asynchronous by using a mix of screen+irssi to be always on as a user on a server and read messages when they wanted. Identi.ca allows be to create and join groups or follow a user. Groups do not exist on Twitter. Groups are depersonalising microblogging. This means you rather follow a topic in a group sense rather than a single person or just a tag.

So if we talk about a group we just have a fresh one called !SFD. This allows people to join a community without having to register on another web page. They can follow messages passively or simply add their 5 cents by posting with !SFD, too.

The nice thing about microblogging is, that its not only asynchronous and open but also web accessible. This means that it has a low entry barrier. Everybody can read the messages, even if she does not understand what is going on. IRC will never gain a lot more attention.

Identi.ca has a gateway to Jabber Instant Messaging. This allows me to get a message immediately after it was sent – and also for me to send messages via jabber to the open microblogging sphere. This means that microblogging has a instant messaging functionality

Microblogging is also similar to Blogging which the name already says. Its messages  are a lot shorter. Usually < 140 characters. This is not much and I also think it might be nice to be able to extend this limit. Not for microblogging itself but maybe to link to microblogging with a short summary of a full blog post. You can talk about everything in 140 characters.

I think microblogging is an interesting technology, especially with the AGPL/GPL3 licensed Laconica that drives identi.ca.

I am still testing the limits and to find out what you can or can not do with it.

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Another Online Desktop Idea

GNOME has its vision of what a online desktop should be. I have another. The idea is to find a replacement for:

  • VPN network access
  • XDMCP graphical logins
  • SSH logins
  • etc.

My idea – and I am sure I am not the only one having it is to have rather a local login to a desktop – but then be able to fetch some common settings from a central server – and maybe also some data.

I will explain a possible session:

First you have a plain desktop like a GNOME desktop. You might want to use the settings of your central account. Then you can do this by clicking on a link. You can type in your password and you will get all the settings you use. By that I mean things like IMAP account, bookmarks, Jabber account,… maybe also desktop settings loudness settings, messaging preferences – and maybe not some location specific settings like your proxy. Maybe you can register your location or rather choose it to by a dynamic location (because you use a public WLAN with some more secure settings and with different IP addresses).

On a second session  login  the settings will be downloaded and the environment of the desktop will change. Potentially this settings could be accessed from a central GCONFD which runs as root as a daemon instead of per session. Maybe this would also allow to tunnel some traffic through the server that has this GCONFD running.

So what this does NOT is:

  • It does not provide any secure connection like SSH or a real login to a server.
  • It does not provide a login to GDM through XDMCP
  • It does not provide any access to a VPN

It rather provides:

  • Information that a user has saved
  • Themes, Looks and other environment definitions
  • Maybe also acces to data if this is wanted. So if the user saves the data on a central server this desktop could offer some ways to access (via VPN, SSH, XDMCP,…). The ways that are offered could depend on the configuration of the GCONFD and on how the user defines access to his desktop.
  • It could also offer different VIEWS – so coming back to former ideas I offered here in my blog – So I as a user could define a simplified, lightweight profile for my notebook when I am on the move or for mobile devices. These views could also maybe be shared anonymized or personalized via Email, Jabber, etc. – so that they could be downloaded, installed, executed and used.
  • A way to print something from anywhere in the world to a printer of your choice.

For privacy concerns the user should be given some options to anonymize his shared views – or be warned if the connection is not encrypted or secure enough. These views could maybe also include many different desktops in one – so like you import a HOME view and a OFFICE view – and can switch between them like today with the screens in the GNOME panel. So that would be useful not only while traveling but also handling different usages. Users need different environments. One main problem people have is that their computer tend to mix all kinds of usages – so maybe somebody is working, has some private usages and also is active in an organization. Today people sort data and information by creating folders. But the number of folders is steadily growing – and often you  only need one or two folders if you want to work on one subject. The other 500 folders are useless in this moment.

All those problems are neither targeted by todays desktop nor by GNOMEs online desktop vision which really just tries to integrate big websites into your desktop. I wish some of those visions could become true. Right now all desktops are much too conservative. I think maybe Plan 9 has done the groundwork for such an idea (representing all data in folders and files)

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Will Jabber be the new HTTP?

Jabber is geting more and more attention these days – as most freemail providers provide it also as a chat protocol and integration into different web software advances I tend to think that it might become THE internet protocol. Why is that? Well it allows communication between desktop applications and server applications. It also allows communication between servers – and it allows also complex messaging – and its not full of spam. So I could think that we will eventually see some kinf of Jabber mail as the new mail standard in the future – which also allows attachments or voice – with still a simple kind of adressing. It will NOT replace http for sure – not as a replacement as a web browsing protocol – but maybe still for things like exchange of small personalized information bits. Jabber is extandable and is not a highly specialized protocol – so it can be used for many different purposes and it also is based uppon XML – which again makes it more flexible.

I think it is not really a better special protocol for things like serving web pages if you think like you used to think. But if you look at the problems of the web- like authentication and how people needed to set up solutions like OpenID to solve at least some of the problems – now lets think that a browser like Firefox can authenticate via Jabber – this would also be a unique and open identifier – only problem is that browser speak http and ftp – and generally talk to sites anonymously and unencrypted. Another intersting things are RSS feeds and calendars – right now we are used to fetch those meta data via http mostly -but this means we fetch anonymous data, unless we would integrate http authentication into http – but http authentication is not really comfortable.

So generally Jabber could act as THE authenticator protocol – but it could also be the protocol to get new meta data that we care about – either some client requests new meta data or he gets a message with the new data or changed data. I guess currently most RSS feed readers act the way that they repeatedly fetch one RSS file and then show the changes to the RSS feed aggregator? Also think aboout that Jabber also could fetch simple diffs of data – and as the client software might maintain the full info it could insert new data into the existing – this would also help mobile devices to fetch data in less time. And it would also mean that the user would get personalised data without that the user would have to log into web sites via a mobile device. He rather would subscribe to a site via jabber.

And there is another thing that is related and I think could become true: I think that the alway on metaphor will become less important in the near future. Why? Because it might often be better to be able to fetch large amounts of data via a wireless lan when you are near a wireless hub than to always be available and download data through 3G or any other “fast” new  network. I do not think the new phone standards will get anything near wired or WLAN standards when it comes to speed – both technologies move forward but phone standards will never be faster than WLAN standards. And on the other hand devices get faster processors and larger disks. So what I guess will happen is that your device will be able to contain something like a complete wikipedia – and that no one really would be so stupid to browse wikipedia only via a mobile device online – rather he browses it offline with no connection to the outside – or at least very limited connection – and the connections should be encrypted and indivualized – so that each device only gets what it is missing and only when it can fetch large amounts of data cheap. So instead of the computer that we got used to use more as a terminal to the real data on the internet the computer will more likely be used more directly – the mobile devices AND the desktops. And thats why I also think the Offline Desktop will rather become more important than less important. This is also a matter of security. What a user should want is that the computer reduces the need to connect to the internet and to visit random websites with unknown content or status. And it is generally a better idea to just have what you need in a controlled enviroment instead of having to import random data from endless sources. Funnily on desktops there is more computer power invested to search data that is stored randomly and also internet content from email, web or chat than to store data in a meaningful way. So I download a PDF in a random location (I have to make a choice) – but then I have to use a desktop search engine to find it again. Thats like I would put letters I get in random folders in my office and then I would have to search every folder every time. Ok computer power helps in finding such documents  – but wouldn’t it be better if the data you fetch is already organized and you would not depend on the logic of a search engine to find it again? Thing is that the category you think of with the document might not even be either in the name of the document or inside the document itself.

But again the free software desktops are much too conservative to think of such a solution. So ok Apple do this – and free software desktops will follow five years later. 😦 Free software desktops rather think about more blingbling instead of helping the user and be ahead this time. I think this is also due to the fact that generally free desktops have no grand vision. Coders are more worried about deadlines ore fixing stuff – or doing something cool. What I just described would require people who want to do it and to put different resources together . I think it is not a huge task – in fact I think it could be done rather easily with some tweaks – like on GNOMEs epiphany on download neither download a document autoamtically nor ask for a location – but instead start an import wizard that suggest categories and allows you to add categories and texts. Then to retrieve this document you would do this by date, filetype, category or tag – you should also be able to gather different documents under one lable – so you could have graphics, PDFs and ODFs saved separately but retrieve them in one view with only a few words or clicks. The old folder content view is not able to help us any more with more and more data – but its wrong that instead of fixing the data storage metaphor – to create more and more apps that maintain their own databases of the files you have – so like you can have on GNOME beagle, tracker and f-spot all indexing your hard disk for three different databases – thats stupidity not intelligence. In open source we should have all the possibility to share technology intelligently and also if we develop – to also think about different apps. On GNOME at least my impression is that many projects go a path of their own because the core desktop was devalued intentionally and also the support for potentially core apps did not get any support from the core of GNOME developers.

I think a new  desktop vision should primarily focus on what people need to work with computers today – and how the computer could help them in doing this easier. But lets forget for a while how computer work today. So maybe this would mean to write many parts from scratch – like to kill all file dialogues, because they are mostly unnecessary unless if you want to export data.

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