A Brief History of Ugly: Apple in the last 10 years

In horror honor of yesterday's announcement of the newly-designed third-generation iPod nano, we here at Infinite Loop have taken some time to look back at the last 10 years of Apple product design in order to get some perspective on just how hideous the new Apple audio player is (to some of us). This list isn't to say that some of these Apple monstrosities don't have a special place in our heart, though.HangZhou Night Net

1997 Apple eMate 300
It's hard to know exactly what Apple was thinking on this one. We would find out later that translucent can be done right, but in this instance, it was just done wrong. Add to that the shade of green that Apple designers decided to use and the overall shape of the "ultra portable," and we have ourselves the first ugly Apple product of the last 10 years.

1998 Power Macintosh G3 AIO
This is clearly a case of function over form. The Power Macintosh G3 AIO had it all: floppy drive, CD-ROM, Zip drive, 3 PCI slots… except for looks. Perhaps Apple believed that the .edu sector, of which this machine was only offered to, didn't need a good-looking machine. This gigantic beige monstrosity's "bubble top" only sealed its inclusion on this list.

1999 Power Macintosh G3 (Blue and White)
This was a tough one for us. Most of us love the industrial design of this machine and the ability to easily work on its innards, and some of us even liked the color. However, most of us are men, and men with bad color taste (it should be noted, however, that Jacqui proudly sported a blue and white G3 throughout college). We have been informed that the color, well, may not be so good on a computer. Who knew? Add to it the Mickey Mouse G3 logo and this beauty makes our list.

1999 iBook
While some thought the original iBook looked like a clam, the less gracious among us compared its looks to a less-flattering toilet seat. Add the blueberry color to the unfortunate shape (also offered in tangerine, lime green, and "graphite") and you can't go wrong with the iBook.

2001 Flower Power iMac
Nothing really needs to be said here. I've never seen one in the wild (other than in a store) and I only saw one of them sell during my tenure at an Apple Authorized dealer. ::shakes his head::

2002 eMac
Originally only intended for the education market, this machine resembled an iMac on HGH. Despite its decent specs at the time, its "ginormosity" just made it a little on the ugly side. Its front headlights didn't help the situation and the oversized CD-ROM door just made the front look like a big, ugly car.

2004 iMac G5
If anything on this list is almost "not ugly," it is the iMac G5 design. Just a bit too thick and a chin just a bit too big, it really is hard for us to include this one on the list—some of us have owned them (and er, some of us still do). Some would argue that the G4 iMac is the uglier of the two, but that Pixar lamp was just so cute!

2005 iPod Shuffle (Rev. 1)
Regardless of whether or not you liked the screen-less audio player while it was out, it is hard to argue in retrospect that it looks like some sort of home pregnancy test. The long and skinny look isn't exactly "in" when it comes to MP3 players. The Rev. 2 iPod shuffles were a welcome and much needed change to the industrial design of the shuffle line.

2007iPod nano (Rev. 3)
It may grow on us, but we doubt it. As the inspiration for this list, the iPod nano looks as though it was put inside a trash compactor, perhaps where it should have stayed. In the 24 hours since its announcement, I haven't heard many positive comments. While it may not look as ugly in profile, that's no excuse. Don't even get us started on seafoam green and sky blue!

So there it is, some of the low points in design from the boys and girls out in Cupertino. There were some that were close—the iLamp, the 14" chicklet iBook, that translucent, huge Apple Cinema Display—but in the end they didn't make the cut.

Botnet attack targeting eBay and its users, compromising accounts

Trojans and the zombie computer botnets that often spawn from them have been a problem for many years, but recently some of the attacks have been getting downright nasty. Attackers are using more and more sophisticated methods, including social engineering, to get past users' defenses. HangZhou Night Net

The latest attack is targeting eBay members and stealing their online identities using multi-stage attacks in order to perpetuate fraud. It was first identified by researcher Ofer Elzam, who works for the firm Aladdin Knowledge Systems, Ltd. Ars had a chance to talk to Mr. Elzam recently, and he explained how the fraudsters, which he believes may have started as early as mid-August, did their dastardly work.

The attack began with hackers compromising third-party web sites using a technique called SQL injection. Extra code was dynamically added to the main page of these web sites using a hidden IFRAME tag which loaded a malicious web page. This page contained a VBScript file that used AJAX to download and save a file called MISuvstm.exe into the Windows system folder. Once this file was downloaded, it attached itself to the Windows Explorer process and went hunting for a further trojan, called SRTops32.exe, which was the basis for a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack on eBay itself. The attack uses eBay's own Application Programming Interfaces to guess eBay users' passwords by brute force, although Alladin also says that more traditional phishing techniques are also being used.

Already there have been reports of people affected by this scam. According to this blog post, the attackers changed one user's eBay identity and sent out at least 25 e-mails to individuals in the United Kingdom who are attempting to sell Sony laptop computers. The compromised account, which retained the original user's high eBay rating, offered the sellers more money than they asked for in exchange for the laptops being shipped "as soon as possible."

Ofer Elzam says that the sophistication and complexity of the attack shows that many other variations of this scam are possible. "The approach to security should not be restricted to a narrow technology such as 'how many sites are in one solution's blacklist' or 'how many signatures are in an antivirus," he told Ars. "The 'blacklisted' sites can change at any moment; many could be infected PCs or hacked sites which are otherwise legitimate and cannot be put in a blacklist." The reason the attack vector was so convoluted was so that if certain sites hosting the malware were blocked, the trojans can react and create new and unique trojan "stubs"—the initial downloaders are between four to six kilobytes—that antivirus programs won't be aware of.

Responding to threats like this requires cooperation and knowledge at all levels, from the user to the third-party web site owner to eBay itself, and such cooperation is difficult to achieve even at the best of times. Elzam says that his company has contacted eBay repeatedly about the issue but as yet has received no reply. One solution (which Aladdin happens to currently market) for sites like eBay is two-factor authentication (indeed, eBay subsidiary PayPal has trialed the method). This is a solution where two different methods of identification are used, such as a user name and password combined with a physical item, like a mobile phone, credit card, or hardware dongle device, in the hands of the owner. These solutions, while not invulnerable, would prevent brute-force attacks such as one directed at eBay. They have already been suggested by other security researchers but their adoption has been slow so far.

In the end, as the enemy adapts, so too will users and service providers. There are software scanning products that ISPs can run that will detect and block attempted IFRAME redirections—this is how Aladdin first found out about the eBay attacks—and users can make sure that they use secure passwords and keep their operating systems and web browsers fully up to date and patched. Finally, high-profile sites such as eBay may wish to consider adopting extra security measures, like two-factor authentication.

Ars attempted to contact eBay for a response to Elzam's comments, but did not receive a reply prior to publication.

Apple, music labels to meet with European Commission over antitrust charges

The European Commission plans to hold antitrust hearings with Apple and several major music labels later this month, the EC said today. The hearings will take place from September 19 through 20 and will address the EC's concerns over unfair pricing and sales practices of the iTunes Store in Europe. The hearings are the next step in the EC's investigation, and the EC has stressed that the hearings themselves will not lead directly to a judgment. Indeed, the EC has yet to set a date by which it will render a decision. HangZhou Night Net

Music labels EMI, Universal Music Group, and Sony BMG will all be joining Apple in the hearings. They, in addition to Warner Music Group, were accused by the EC earlier this year of pressuring Apple into going along with the country-specific pricing scheme. Apple submitted a response in late June, but the EC has kept it under wraps.

Under current iTunes Store rules, users may only purchase songs within their countries of residence, which Apple enforces by requiring the use of locally-issued credit cards. This, in itself, is not necessarily a problem until pricing differences between European countries are taken into account. Songs and albums can be priced very differently depending on which country they are being sold in, which the EC says is in violation of European antitrust laws.

The hearings will be closed to the public and each record label will be meeting with Apple and the EC separately due to the confidential nature of each company's agreement with the online music giant. The hearing officer will then compile a summary of the hearings and send them to Commissioner Neelie Kroes for review.

The PlayStation 3 gets Stranglehold, NBA Live demos

It seems like the US PlayStation Store doesn't update until later in the day. While Nintendo gives you fresh Virtual Console content by the time you wake up, Sony makes sure you have something to look forward to when you get off of work. So what did we get this Thursday? HangZhou Night Net

New demos:

Stranglehold NBA Live 08

A whole mess of MotorStorm add-ons and one Ninja Gaiden content pack:

MotorStorm Revenge Weekend Add-on Pack (New track, vehicles, races and race mode) — $5.99
MotorStorm Add-on Vehicle 1 (Wakazashi Razor bike) — $0.99
MotorStorm Add-on Vehicle 2 (Wombat Mudslide ATV) — $0.99
MotorStorm Add-on Vehicle 3 (Atlas Varjack mudplugger) — $0.99
MotorStorm Add-on Vehicle 4 (Atlas Arizona big rig) — $0.99
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Weapons Master Add-on (5 survival modes) — $2.99

A bevy of trailers:

Turok "Quiet Kills" Trailer
PixelJunk Racers Trailer
Heavenly Sword "Making Of" No. 5
Heavenly Sword Anime No. 5
Lair "World in Chaos" Video
MotorStorm "Coyote Revenge" Video
Drillbit Tailer Trailer
Resident Evil: Extinction Trailer
Heavenly Sword Anime No. 5 Wallpaper

Past Thursday updates have been somewhat anemic, but it looks like Sony is starting to get some momentum; this is the second consecutive week with a beefy set of demos and trailers. If you haven't given Stranglehold a try yet, do so. It's a great demo. Also take a look at PixelJunk Racers; I was able to play this at E3 and enjoyed it. It may look simple, but it's a good time.

Cell phones can trigger medical equipment failure, problem could get worse

As people become increasingly comfortable with the use of cellphones, they're beginning to chafe at the remaining restrictions on their use (as anyone who has boarded an airplane recently can attest). The tension over wireless limitations is even more complex in the medical world, where not only do patients and their families want to stay in touch, but wireless connectivity can enable better patient care. A Open Access study that was released today points out yet another complication: wireless technology is a moving target, and what's safe today may not remain so. HangZhou Night Net

The work follows up on an earlier study that suggested that not all cellular technology might be equal when it comes to interference with medical equipment. GSM networks can handle data from two generations of transmission technology: UMTS, and the higher-powered GPRS. The original study suggested that, although UMTS devices were generally safe to have around medical equipment, GPRS-based phones had the potential to interfere with their function.

The new study focuses on what could be considered "worst case" interference. Instead of using typical operating power, the authors reasoned that a hospital environment, which is often deep within a building and subject to a variety of sources of interference, is likely to force phones to operate at their maximal power limits (in the case of GPRS devices, 2 watts). So, they set up both GPRS and UMTS antennae 500cm away from medical devices, and gradually moved them closer while checking the device's function. Problems were classified as light when they simply interfered with monitoring the device, significant when they required intervention, and hazardous when they created a health risk for the patient. Devices included various pumps, monitoring equipment, defibrillators, and pacemakers.

All told, the authors witnessed 48 events, affecting 26 of the 61 medical devices tested. The good news is that cellular devices typically had to be on top of equipment before causing a problem; the mean distance at which signs of trouble appeared was only 3cm. Still, at least one hazardous event occurred out at 300cm (nearly 10 feet), and five happened at 25cm. The key result, however, is the clear relationship between signal power and problems. The UMTS signal, which operates at 10 percent of the power of GPRS devices, caused only 17 percent of the trouble. A low-frequency GPRS signal produced 31 percent of the incidents, while a high frequency version caused about half of the problems. The severity of the problems broke down along similar lines.

The authors note that the existing safety standards of the Netherlands, where the studfy took place, limits cell phones to a distance of over a meter from medical devices, and they suggest this standard is reasonable. But the more notable message is one the authors didn't mention: those standards are clearly going to need to be reevaluated as wireless devices evolve in the future.

Critical Care, 2007. DOI: 10.1186/cc6115

Battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD fizzles as consumers watch and wait

There's a format war going on, in case you've not turned on the TV, surfed the Internet, or stepped into a consumer electronics retailer for the past year and a half. But some news that has emerged from a couple of trade shows this week shows that the "war" is more like a slap-fight between a couple of preadolescent girls: it holds great significance to the parties involved and may be slightly entertaining to watch, but it does very little lasting damage. HangZhou Night Net

Over the last couple of days, the North American HD DVD Promotional Group has sent out press releases trumpeting the format's momentum. HD DVD is going to start advertising on NBC's Sunday Night Football and will soon have 125 new HD DVD titles available. The trade group has also convinced PC manufacturer Acer to join and is highlighting a new Acer laptop (the Aspire 5920) with an HD DVD drive at this week's CEDIA EXPO 2007.

At the same expo, both Sony and Toshiba gave presentations on the strengths of their preferred formats. Sony played up Blu-ray's two-to-one sales lead over HD DVD when it comes to discs sold so far. Sony also says Blu-ray has 55 percent of the next-gen HD player market, compared to 43 percent for HD DVD and 2 percent for hybrid players. But if you take a closer look at the images snapped of Sony's charts by AnandTech, you can see a rather disturbing trend for both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

From their peaks at the end of 2006, both formats have seen a rather precipitous sales decline. According to Sony, Blu-ray sold nearly 70,000 discs per week during the last weeks of 2006. But by mid-May, the last week for which Sony provided data, that had slipped to less than 35,000 per week. HD DVD saw a similar decline, but not as steep, going from around 43,000 discs to a bit more than 20,000. At one point towards the end of April, sales of Blu-ray and HD DVD discs were in a virtual dead heat.

Toshiba blew HD DVD's horn as well. The HD DVD backer pointed out that the format has a 62.7 percent market share… for PC drives. Toshiba also pointed to some market research it conducted that showed consumers were more than twice as likely to buy an HD DVD player than they were a Blu-ray player. One problem: a majority were undecided.

Data source: Toshiba

Across the Atlantic, a panel at the International Broadcast Conference in the Netherlands discussed the battle between HD DVD and Blu-ray. One panelist says that both formats could be in trouble if a clear winner doesn't emerge soon. "The longer the confusion exists for mass market consumers, they will want one format," said Jim Bottoms, cofounder of Understanding & Solutions, according to EETimes. "If the market does not have a one-format solution within 18 months, the consumer will start to turn away."

Other panelists weren't as pessimistic as Bottoms. One estimated that the format war will still be going strong in 2011, when the US will see a 60/40 split between Blu-ray and HD DVD, but with only 40 percent of US households owning an HD disc player of any sort.

Both parties are doing whatever they can to convince consumers to vote with their wallets. Blu-ray scored a couple of victories via agreements with Target and Blockbuster, while HD DVD scored a major coup by convincing Paramount to drop Blu-ray and embrace HD DVD. There has been some serious price-cutting, too, with the first sub-$200 (but 1080i-only) HD DVD soon to launch.

Despite their best efforts, there is still a lot of uncertainty on the part of consumers, and right now, Blu-ray and HD DVD are fighting over a very small piece of the hardware pie. Sales of DVDs and DVD players still dwarf those of both next-gen formats combined: the DVD of Happy Feet sold over 4 million copies during the last week of March, which is almost twice as much as the total next-gen disc format sales since their launch over a year ago. It's a vicious cycle for the next-gen formats: sales won't grow significantly because of consumer uncertainty, that uncertainty won't lessen until there's a clear winner, and a clear winner won't emerge until sales of one format are significant enough to bury the other.

RIAA file-sharing case ending with squabble over check for attorneys’ fees

The long-running drama between the RIAA and Debbie Foster is about to come to an end, but not without an additional bit of fighting about the attorneys' fees. After Debbie Foster triumphed in the copyright infringement case brought against her by the record labels, she sought and obtained an award for attorneys' fees. After the RIAA exhausted its appeals—and after some further prodding from Foster—it finally cut Foster a check for $68,685.23 on August 30. HangZhou Night Net

Case closed, right? Wrong. Foster subsequently filed a motion to amend the attorneys' fees award citing two major factors: the amount of the payment and the way in which it was paid. Although the RIAA paid in full up to the time that the amount of the award was finalized, it neglected to include fees incurred by Foster's attorney pertaining to a hearing on July 5. It also neglected to include the interest that had accrued since the date of the award.

Foster's attorney Marilyn Barringer-Thomson was also displeased that the plaintiffs overnighted her a single check payable to Debbie Foster instead of electronically transferring the funds to the accounts of those in line for payments. As a result, the plaintiff would not have immediate access to the funds due to the bank's policy of placing a hold on checks. Copyright attorney Ray Beckerman commented that it is "highly unusual for a judgment debtor's attorneys not to follow the judgment creditor's attorney's payment instructions."

The RIAA countered by filing a motion to deem the judgment satisfied. Their argument was simple: we cut the check in the proper amount, and it's now in Foster's possession, so let's call it a day. An RIAA spokesperson told Ars that Foster's filing "misstates the facts and misconstrues the judgment in this case," saying that they made payment in "strict compliance" with the order.

"As a professional courtesy, we were willing to pay the fees to counsel's trust account via wire transfer. When we asked defendant's counsel to confirm that doing so would be in satisfaction of the judgment—which it clearly is—she refused and insisted we pay her money above the amount set forth in the judgment," the RIAA spokeswoman told Ars. "Because counsel met our professional courtesy with a lack of cooperation and an unreasonable insistence that we pay her sums beyond what were ordered, we chose to avoid any dispute and made payment in strict compliance with the Court's judgment."

In an order issued earlier today, Judge Lee R. West pointed out that it's not the fault of the plaintiffs that the bank places a hold on checks and said that there is no authority barring the payment of attorneys' fees by check. Judge West denied Foster's motion to amend the judgment but instructed the RIAA to calculate post-judgment interest and cut Foster another check on or before September 13. Once that has occurred, he'll rule on the RIAA's motion to deem the attorneys' fees judgment satisfied.

Given how the whole case played out, there's little surprise that it is ending with this level of acrimony. At the end of the day, Foster has been cleared of copyright infringement, while the RIAA is left paying the legal bills for both parties.

Rage guitarist Tom Morello to appear in Guitar Hero 3

While Rock Band and Guitar Hero 3 continue their feature-war for your rhythm dollar, the truth is the gamer is winning. They both want to give you the ultimate rock experience, and that means they're both fighting for the best songs and the best bands—I couldn't be happier. Today, Activision announced that, along with Slash, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello will appear in Guitar Hero 3 as a boss character. HangZhou Night Net

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock boss battles give fans a chance to compete against legendary guitarists such as Slash and now Tom Morello. Players are required to deplete the boss' Rock Meter before the boss goes into their Death Drain solo, which always means 'lights-out.' After defeating a boss, players unlock that guitarist as a playable character and continue to the encore for the set list, which is a master recording of one of their respective bands' most well-known tracks. When Morello is defeated, the next performance is "Bulls on Parade," during which Morello performs on stage alongside the player.

That sounds pretty kickass, and Tom Morello is already a fan of the game. "Whenever I play Guitar Hero my opponent always kicks my ass on my own riffs. It's embarrassing," says Morello in the release. "Now that I'm actually IN the game I hope the digital me will win once in awhile!"

Activision lauds Bulls on Parade, calling Morello's work "a highly unusual solo that sounds more like a turntable than a guitar by making use of the toggle switch and rubbing his hand along the strings parallel to the neck of the guitar." It remains to be seen how that will be played in the game, but it will be fun to find out.

Competition is a good thing.

Tabula Rasa receives ship date: October 19

At E3 two years ago the NCSoft booth had fire breathers, a live band, and Tabula Rasa. It was a little hard to get a sense for Richard Garriot's futuristic MMORPG. Luckily, in the time since, Opposable Thumbs has been able to take a look at the game at PAX and take the title for a test drive through the beta. Now we know when the game will be released: October 19. HangZhou Night Net

"It has been a heck of a journey," said Richard Garriott, the game's executive producer. "The fact that we are getting ready for the final stretch towards launch feels great, but it is also just the beginning. I think we've managed to do something truly unique and I hope that the gaming community likes it as much as we do. Now, I am looking forward to a really fun 'end of beta event' for our incredible testers, and focusing development on new planets and innovations for future expansions of Tabula Rasa."

The standard edition will be $49.99 and be available at retailers and through NCSoft's online store, and the special edition will be available for $69.99. The more expensive version features a special emote, an in-game pet, new armor colors, a coin, maps, and all those fun things that make us want to pay $20 more for our online games.

Now, while we're on this topic, this is something funny I just stumbled upon. Our first gaming writer for Ars Technica, Carl, went to E3 in 2001. There, he heard about a game that was being made by Lord British, aka Richard Garriot. Keep in mind, this was 2001.

Perhaps better known as Lord British, Richard Garriott revealed some details of his new development house, Destination Games. The biggest coup for Destination Games so far is the deal with Korean game company NCsoft to bring Lineage: The Blood Pledge to North America. Lineage is a hugely popular online multiplayer RPG (akin to Everquest), which boasts more than 2 million registered players.

In discussing the future of Destination Games, Garriott made vague comments about a future project called Tabula Rassa (an online RPG), but details were few. One thing is known: it'll be 2.5 years in development, which is just a blink in Duke Nukem Forever years.

I can't even link to it directly, you're going to have to just scroll down in this post. I remember reading that thinking two and a half years sounded like a long time. That was in 2001. We were already making fun of Duke Nukem Forever. Crazy.

Apple faces third class action lawsuit over iPhone batteries

Apple's lawyers must be ready for a vacation right about now, since they've had quite a busy summer. In addition to not one but two class action lawsuits over iPhone batteries, they've also been faced with a variety of other suits. There doesn't seem to be much of an end in sight, either, since Apple has now been hit with a third class action suit over the infamous batteries, and has escalated the original battery suit to the federal level. HangZhou Night Net

The newest class action suit was written by two firms responsible for the earlier battery suits, so it should come as no surprise that the allegations are essentially the same. According to the complaint seen by Ars Technica, the plaintiffs (along with other iPhone buyers) were never informed the battery could only be replaced by Apple. They were also never aware of the cost of a such a replacement. The suit also claims that the battery will need to be replaced every year, which (once again) may be a bit of a stretch. Don't expect this suit to be resolved anytime soon, though. There are already two battery suits out there, one of which Apple seems to be moving on, so I suspect this case will get put on the back burner until a judge decides on one of the other two.

The first suit, filed by Jose Trujillo in an Illinois court, does appear to be getting some attention from Apple. Based on a short action submitted to the court, Apple's lawyers are removing the case from county court, and escalating it to federal court in the Northern District of Illinois. The change is occurring thanks to the 2005 Class Action Fairness Act, which allows multi-state class action suits with over $5 million in damages to be moved to federal court. The hope is that the federal court will deal more fairly with companies in multiple states, in the event that the case actually goes to trial. It's unclear if Apple will try to settle out of court, as they like to do, but we'll just have to wait and see.