What Users Should Require in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

We, the users, should stop thinking about software as a thing to own. The direction is toward a service model for better and worse.

What should a keen-eyed shopper value?

  • No data lock-in – the user should own their data and be able to export it at any time through the native user interface without having to jump through hoops (except for encrypted data – see below). The export should be in a common format like plain text, XML, CSV, etc. and not a proprietary format.
  • Direct support – a web interface, email address, and chat at a minimum is required. Any service only offering support through an app store is a major red flag.
  • Multi-platform – unless you only live in Apple’s or Google’s ecosystem any SaaS must at least support your top two platforms. If you are GNU/Linux or Windows on your desktop, this is a must-have for your mobile devices.
  • Multi-cloud – unless you only live in Apple’s ecosystem any SaaS must support Dropbox as a second option at a minimum. iCloud is limited to macOS, iOS, and Windows but the Windows support is abysmal IMHO.
  • Mobile support – must handle landscape and portrait layouts and support tablet sizes. I am surprised at the software that still does not do this basic task.
  • Encryption – must support industry standard best encryption options. If a SaaS offers its own custom encryption RUN AWAY! Exporting encrypted data should offer unencrypted and GPG-passphrase-encrypted options though few do today.
  • Active development – this is easiest to verify if they have a public GitHub or similar repository. App stores will also show when the last update hit. Careful reviews of app store ratings can help figure out the historical time line. Check in Reddit and StackExchange and other public forums.
  • Native (non app store) desktop releases – on the desktop the ability to get the software outside of the Apple or Microsoft or Google app stores is a plus. Even if you prefer the app store version – and most users should for the added security – the developer’s willingness to offer a direct-to-the-customer version of their software with a license is a good sign. Also, any revenue the developer gets from these direct sales is 100%. Apple app store versions costs the developer 30% or so.
  • In App Purchases – not bad in and of themselves, a developer should not “nickel and dime” customers with small features. There should be an option for some kind of a premium bundle which offers all add-ons for a reasonable 1 time fee.
  • Data sync – this is a tough one. Most SaaS developers will come up with their own sync solution after changes to DropBox made it more difficult for developers. iCloud on iOS & macOS works in the Apple ecosystem. OneDrive might eventually for Microsoft and some Android stuff, and Google Drive for the Google stuff. I think so long as the sync adheres to the above you are good.
  • Local storage – some apps like 1Password and TextExpander offered local repository options but deprecated them for IMHO less than compelling reasons related to sync and cloud. Users should have the option to store sensitive data locally and forgo sync & cloud for that data.
  • Feature & scope creep – watch out for Saas that suddenly introduce changes for enterprises and large groups while removing or reducing functionality for individual users in order to accommodate the expansion.

What else should users look for in a SaaS product?

Subcription Victims

Ulysses, the popular macOS and iOS text editor, went to a subscription model. LastPass recently upped their monthly subscription price to $2/month, a 100% increase (among other things). 1Password, TextExpander, and a host of others have done the same.

I’m no fan of the subscription model for software – I think developers overvalue their efforts in many cases. I also understand that the other popular revenue models also suck. Apple does not make this any easier for developers or users.

I do not have an easy answer as I am not a developer. As a user, I am taking responsibility for the cost/value proposition each service (which software is becoming) offers to me. Part of the calculus is how much time and effort and enjoyment (or lack thereof) I will get leveraging another option.

Others take the victim approach to these announcements. In many cases I understand why. There is an increasing trend for revenue model changes happening without notice. Some companies do a poor job on their first stab taking care of existing customers. Others overcompensate for their existing users, alienating new users who think they are getting ripped off because they didn’t buy version 1 back in 2008 (or whenever).

David Sparks made the comment that “What [users] shouldn’t do is trash the app in review because you’re not happy with the business model.” I disagree. A developer’s or company’s behavior is relevant to the app review process as it exists today, especially in the Apple ecosystem. Many application developers act on negative comments in these reviews.

Now, were Apple and Google and Microsoft and other app store overlords to open up the app review process to categories such as technical, ownership, support, etc., my disagreement with Mr. Sparks would fall away. A more nuanced approach to feedback is needed in general. That is another post for another day.

I do agree with the fundamental fallacy of relying on negative app reviews for change. As a user, I recommend applying at least part of your righteous indignant energy toward something more positive for you.

I was in a 7 day cooling off period before jumping on the Ulysses bandwagon when the switch occurred. The initial cost for macOS and iOS before the change was a hurdle. In the new model, I can test it for two months for about $10 (as pointed out by Dr. Drang) before committing.

Fundamentally, anything only in the Apple ecosystem is a hard sell for me. I use and like using Windows 10, flaws and all, on my Surface Pro 4. I use my Nexus 6p running Android N almost as much as my iOS devices. If the application or service cannot run on at least one of those platforms, I have no need for it right now. 1Password and TextExpander are cross-platform, by the way, as are LastPass and iaWriter – two apps I am leaving.

By the way, I am doubling down on Emacs and org-mode. I picked them back up recently to help solve a few work related workflow issues. I get infinitely more flexibility with it and it is cross platform on everything but iOS. I learned I can capture and edit org-mode with Drafts.

And I like using/configuring/tweaking Emacs. Bonus.

[2017] Emergency Preparedness

I am a big fan of planning for “the Big Dark”, where the power is out for more than 3 days. Analog systems, like printed and hand-written records, will be more useful. 

Remember: Emergency preparedness isn’t only for you. it is also so others can contact you when something bad happens to them.

There are drawbacks, mostly around family dynamics this article assumes are moot when emergencies happen.

Note: These are my recommendations. Your mileage may vary. I look forward to constructive input on how best to prepare in the digital age.

Keep an off-line list of emergency info & numbers with you

There was a time where people either knew important numbers and information or carried a address book – a printed out, dead tree address book – and a much of change to use a pay phone (remember those?) to call people. We need to embrace at least a subset of that.

Your health insurance information should be in here. Insurance providers, policy information, doctors information, and maybe prescriptions information should be included.

In certain countries you may need your ID number as well (though US residents should NOT carry their Social Security card or number).

How about this: keep the numbers of your family and close friends in case your phone dies. I could not call anyone except my children if my phone failed, and they don’t often answer their phones – especially from an unknown caller.

As I’m living in a foreign country I carry a card or two that I can use to get me home. In case you’re traveling, disoriented, or inebriated having a card or two to help you get home can be a life saver.

Carry a bit of cash with you, too, in your wallet.

Keep an off-line list of emergency info & numbers at home

This should be a superset of what you carry with you. Your actual cards and birth certificates and stuff (if they are not in a safe deposit box already) should be in a ready-to-carry locked fireproof box in case of emergency. Bank account information, other financial records, and whatever else needed to rebuild after a disaster should be in here.

Throw some currency in the box, too. While it is in there it isn’t working for you, gaining interest or buying food. But if the power goes out no credit or debit card will help. Having cash will help.

[iOS] Enable Emergency Bypass in iOS 10:

I’ve used the Do Not Disturb feature in iOS since it was introduced. This feature allows you to set “quiet times” when your device won’t alert you with notifications, including phone calls and text messages. It can be activated manually or set to activate at recurring times. I have my set to activate from 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. each day, mainly to avoid “wrong number” calls at all hours of the night.

You have always been able to set a specific group of people you want to exclude from the Do Not Disturb settings. This can be a group you designate in your Contacts or your iPhone’s Favorites list. For years I’ve created a contacts group called “VIP” that I had excluded from Do Not Disturb that included family and a few close friends and other important numbers. While this is handy, it may not cover everyone you want to be able to reach you in the event of an urgent matter. With iOS 10, you have more granular control and can now set contacts on an individual basis to bypass the Do Not Disturb Settings.

To activate the feature select the contact card you want to exclude, edit the contact and select ringtone. At the top of the ringtone menu you’ll now see a toggle for “Emergency Bypass”.

… This is a segment of an article that first appeared in the November Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly on the iPad. You can find out more at https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits/

(Via KatieFloyd.me)

I am not sure if Android offers a similar feature.

[Android] Use Google’s Trusted Contacts App

Trusted Contacts runs on top of a pretty simple concept, with the tap of a button an approved list of people can request your location from wherever they may be. Users will need to manually approve who can request their location, and once a request is sent, the user will have 5 minutes to approve or decline the request before the app automatically approves and sends it.

This app takes things up a notch as well by adding offline support, in a sense. If a user heads outside of active cell service and internet access, the app will report the last known location for that user 5 minutes after a request is sent. Contacts can also “walk each other home,” virtually. This essentially enables one user to keep track of another user’s location as a live feed.

… Before you can share your location, though, you first have to go through the process of adding contacts to the application…

How to add contacts:

  1. Open the Trusted Contacts application
  2. If this is the first time setting up the application, Trusted Contacts will walk you through adding contacts
  3. To set up new contacts, either tap on the Add contacts button found at the bottom of the home screen or open the menu by selecting the Menu button in the upper left-hand side of the screen and tap on the Add contacts option
  4. Here you can search through the contacts on your device and select Add next to the individual to send them an invitation to be a trusted contact

(Via 9to5google.com)

i am not sure if iOS offers a similar feature.

Set up lock screen emergency information

This is a old tip but still useful.

Basically take a picture of contact information and make it your device’s lock screen. Tailor the content to provide what is needed without going overboard. Imagine you are passed out on the sidewalk and the only thing people can get to is your phone’s lock screen. What is the critical information you can provide on there that doesn’t open you up to identity theft?

I find this more useful than the login banner message most devices support. One doesn’t have to wait for the message to scroll, where almost all users put the contact email or phone number.

What else?

What other things, simple and inexpensive and effective, that folks should do?

Journalism & Ethics

Note: This is a total knee jerk reaction to the tweets & post from The Verge that Chris Ziegler was simultaneously a new Apple employee and an existing The Verge editor covering Apple.

Working for two employers at once isn’t new. It happens all the time.

But you can’t report about company B for company A while also an employee for company B. It’s Journalism 101, a class I took. I know famous corporate blogs and sites occasionally like to blur journalistic lines. This violation, if true, is clear.

Assuming Tim Cook didn’t appear apropos of nothing on Chris Ziegler’s doorstep the day his dual employment began, and nothing in what I’ve read so far indicates an immaculate hiring, The Verge should at least brand every article Chris wrote for the past 6 months as suspect. His motives aren’t known. We can only speculate when Mr. Ziegler entered into discussion and ultimately received the offer to join Apple.

Apple should dismiss Mr. Ziegler if the accusations are true. If he was duplicitous to The Verge management, co-workers, and readers it stands to reason he will be duplicitous to Apple as well. His ethics, at least, are questionable.

If someone I hired knowingly still worked in such a conflict of interest I would fire them for cause. I’d be curious to learn of environments where such action wouldn’t be the norm.

Again, I don’t know all the details or all the facts. If correct, the course for Apple and The Verge is clear.

My latest Thursday, 20160908

It’s a rainy, hurricane #Tokyo today. Yesterday was earthquake Tokyo.
@edgarr0jas and I recorded @pvcsec #EP78. I edited and uploaded #EP77 but the show notes are slow going. Someone deleted last week’s run sheet. No @timothydeblock or @cmaddalena or @infosecsherpa, sadly.
I’ve been diving into #blockchain and #fintech during breaks working on a client deliverable.
I can’t help but chime in on the @apple announcement: I’m glad I bought my iPhone 6s+ a few weeks ago. I think there might be a run on them (https://apple.news/AtodeT67IQiKYmKB2s3fvvA).
Big security day today, product and provider oriented. @Dell finished their @EMCcorp acquisition ( http://www.wsj.com/articles/dell-closes-60-billion-merger-with-emc-1473252540), @HPE sold their enterprise software to @MicroFocus (whomever they are; http://reut.rs/2ckMx4c), and @Intel spun off @McAfee Security (http://www.wsj.com/articles/intel-nears-deal-to-sell-mcafee-security-unit-to-tpg-1473277803).
Oh, and I’m playing around with http://www.dayoneapp.com.

En Route to Tokyo Observations, Part I

Random musings and reflections and notes from my current trip to Tokyo:

  • The Hilton Tokyo Shinjuku doesn’t answer their phone. I tried calling three times to inform them of my delayed arrival. I called the Hilton Diamond Help Desk and even they couldn’t confirm the information was understood once they managed to communicate with the hotel. Apparently this location has a reputation.
  • Delta still doesn’t know how to board planes. Our flight took 40% longer to board than it should have (by my estimation). Boarding was like elderly man’s urination stream, dribbles and drabs.
  • Airbus might want to have airlines mount signs at the entry informing passengers where the row numbers are.
  • I do love the overhead bins on the Airbus A320(OW), the “turn your bag on its side” kind.
  • It’s funny that the cabin crew had to explain how the “space ship” style overhead controls work, and funny how they did it.
  • The woman sitting next to me is 5’0″ or so, yet she has an iPhone 6s Plus. She uses it like a tablet and it works well for her. I’m oddly impressed.
  • The Hootoo travel router ROCKS.

Motorola Provides an Argument for Apple as a Corporate Mobile Standard

I’m unlikely to recommend Android devices until Google and the hardware providers get the upgrade situation under control. I might make an exception for the Nexus and Samsung devices, but as I write this I have no faith in the rest of the Android ecosystem.

As I often do, let me tell you a story to illustrate this opinion:

When I started with IBM I chose the Motorola Droid Maxx over other Android phones and Apple iPhones.

My choice wasn’t arbitrary. I did my research.

The decision of iOS versus Android wasn’t a fair fight. KitKat made it easier to be effective. Sharing data between apps was not just easier, it was POSSIBLE on Android. iOS could copy and paste, but not much else.

The Maxx offered excellent battery life (I easily get through a full day on a single charge), a decent screen, an adequate amount of storage, and a rugged build according to my research. Two other major reasons I went with it was that Motorola was a part of Google (at the time) and they listed it as on the upgrade path to Android Lollipop.

14 months later and the only thing still true is the battery life. The screen cracked easily and repeatedly with regular use, the 16GB storage barely keeps up with my minimal workload, and it quickly becomes sluggish unless I close apps and/or reboot.

As for the upgrade to Lollipop, Motorola changed tack yesterday:

We apologize that we will not be upgrading DROID Ultra/Mini/Maxx to Android Lollipop, as we had hoped. We know how important software upgrades are to our customers, and we’re very sorry that we are unable to provide the upgrade.

The Maxx is still on 4.4.2 while Marshmallow (version 6) is the release du jour on Nexus. Verizon released few updates (and they’re complicit in the upgrade mess) but not at the cadence required. I’m sure my Maxx is vulnerable to many issues long since fixed on other platforms. Corporate mandates and enforces robust mobile security, yet I only use my corporate issued phone for email, calendar, tasks, and internal instant messaging. I don’t trust the phone to do much more. I’ve removed almost all non-stock applications.

My personal phone, the older OnePlus One with the Cyanogen Android flavor at 5.1.1, sees vastly more attention than the Motorola. On the 1+1 I do my social media and podcasts and RSS feeds and whatnot, much of which is work related or adjacent.

The funny thing: I used to carry a second phone to protect me from my benevolent corporate overlords. Now my personal phone protects my clients.

iPhones receive regular updates – some better than others, but Apple updates viable phones for a long time (the iPhone 4S, anyone?). Apps have to keep up, for better or worse. Newer iOS versions addressed the data sharing issue, making Apple  devices more useful to me as productivity tools.

The moral of my story is that I’m going through the process to replace the Maxx with an iPhone, but it’s a bureaucratic mess that takes time. Now that Motorola came clean, the upgrade path theoretically eases.

What about you? What are your experiences in this space? Have you standardized on iOS or Android or Windows? Or do you struggle with the mercurial nature of the vendors and your users? What about when vendors pull the rug out from under you? Are you considering alternate platforms like Microsoft Windows Mobile and Ubuntu?

Full Disclosure: I work for IBM. IBM and Apple are partners (who would have thought that in the 80’s?). My opinions are mine alone.

Known unknowns – detecting rootkits under OS X – We Live Security

A rootkit is a piece of malicious software which has the advanced capability of hiding itself on an infected system. This is usually done by hooking system functions. For example a rootkit could be used to hide files from the user by hooking functions responsible for listing the contents of a directory. Rootkits are frequently used in combination with other malware, which it hides from users and security products. The number of malware families that have rootkit capabilities and targeting Microsoft’s Windows systems is well into double figures.

We think that there could be rootkits targeting the OS X platform, but we have very limited visibility into that threat right now. We know that we don’t know. We also know that various websites and even paperback books [1, 2] document how rootkits can work under OS X. We have seen OS X malware using rootkit techniques in the past. The most notable example being OSX/Morcut [3] also called Crisis by other vendors. This malware was used to steal information from infected Macs and loaded a kernel extension so as to hide its files from the victim.

Detecting a rootkit under OS X currently involves dumping and analyzing kernel memory. It requires time and knowledge. It is not something accessible to everyone.

via Known unknowns – detecting rootkits under OS X – We Live Security.

Apple details security fixes in iOS 7. And there’s a ton of them! | iMore

Apple has distributed a list of security fixes in the just-released iOS 7 software update. And it’s as long and encompassing as you’d imagine any major platform update would be. I haven’t seen them online yet, so I’m reproducing it here for anyone who’s urgently interested. When/if Apple posts it to their knowledge base, we’ll update and link out.

via Apple details security fixes in iOS 7. And there’s a ton of them! | iMore.

I haven’t updated any of my devices yet, and I doubt I’ll go down the iPhone 5* path. I’m happy Apple addressed security issues. I hope they’ll backport some of these for devices that can’t run iOS7.

Apple’s “Touch ID” fingerprint login – not everyone is cock-a-hoop about it | Naked Security

Apparently, there may be yet another reason to be underwhelmed by the iPhone 5s: a lawyer named Marcia Hofmann, writing for Wired, offers the opinion that its fingerprint authentication might end up eroding a long-cherished legal right.

In this case it wouldn’t be the government chipping away at your statutory protections, but technology itself.

The protection that Hofmann thinks might be at risk relates to self-incrimination.

Many jurisdictions give you some sort of “right to silence” – in the USA, it’s usually known as the Fifth, because the Founding Fathers neglected to enshrine it in the original constitution, leaving it to be retrofitted in the so-called Fifth Amendment some three years later.

via Apple’s “Touch ID” fingerprint login – not everyone is cock-a-hoop about it | Naked Security.