Friday, August 27, 2010

PC SECURITY - Windows DLL Exploits

"Windows DLL exploits boom; hackers post attacks for 40-plus apps" by Gregg Keizer, ComputerWorld 8/25/2010


Publish exploits to subvert Firefox, Chrome, Word, Photoshop, Skype, dozens more

Some of the world's most popular Windows programs are vulnerable to attacks that exploit a major bug in the way they load critical code libraries, according to sites tracking attack code.

Among the Windows applications that are vulnerable to exploits that many have dubbed "DLL load hijacking" are the Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera browsers; Microsoft's Word 2007; Adobe's Photoshop; Skype; and the uTorrent BitTorrent client.

"Fast and furious, incredibly fast," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle Security, referring to the pace of postings of exploits that target the vulnerability in Windows software. Called "DLL load hijacking" by some, the exploits are dubbed "binary planting" by others.

On Monday, Microsoft confirmed reports of unpatched vulnerabilities in a large number of Windows programs, then published a tool it said would block known attacks. The flaws stem from the way many Windows applications call code libraries -- dubbed "dynamic-link library," or "DLL" -- that give hackers wiggle room they can exploit by tricking an application into loading a malicious file with the same name as a required DLL.

If attackers can dupe users into visiting malicious Web sites or remote shares, or get them to plug in a USB drive -- and in some cases con them into opening a file -- they can hijack a PC and plant malware on it.

Even before Microsoft described the problem, published its protective tool, and said it could not address the wide-ranging issue by patching Windows without crippling countless program, researcher HD Moore posted tools to find vulnerable applications and generate proof-of-concept code.
Until patches are available, Microsoft has urged users to download the free tool that blocks locks DLLs from loading from remote directories, USB drives, Web sites and an organization's network.

CAUTION - Make sure you understand this MS tool BEFORE loading. If you are NOT SURE, just wait until "patches" (Microsoft Updates) come through.

Needless to say, if you are running a top-of-the-line Antivirus/Antispyware Utility, they should protect you already.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Birth of the PC

The IBM PC was announced to the world on 12 August 1981, helping drive a revolution in home and office computing.

The PC came in three versions; the cheapest of which was a $1,565 home computer.

The machine was developed by a 12-strong team headed by Don Estridge.

I owned one of these, just as you see here.

But it was a replacement for my supper-duper Tandy TRS-80 (aka Radio Shack Trash-80) with max 64kb memory, two 180kb 8" external floppy drives, B&W 80x25 monitor (no graphics), and 1200 baud external modem. WOW!

Am I dating myself?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

HARDWARE - Motherboard Info

This post is about the best way to get hardware information about your Motherboard.

My recommended utility is CPU-Z form the CPUID people.

You can read the specs from their page. Essentially, you need a newer motherboard that has the features to allow CPU-Z to access the information.

Below are screenshots for my home WinXP SP3 Pro Desktop system are below so you can see what you get using this utility.

Click screenshots for better view

("HT" = Hyper Threading = near Due Core performance)

Monday, August 23, 2010

INTERNET - The Information-Age Replicator

"The Third Replicator" by SUSAN BLACKMORE, New York Times 8/22/2010


All around us information seems to be multiplying at an ever increasing pace. New books are published, new designs for toasters and i-gadgets appear, new music is composed or synthesized and, perhaps above all, new content is uploaded into cyberspace. This is rather strange. We know that matter and energy cannot increase but apparently information can.

It is perhaps rather obvious to attribute this to the evolutionary algorithm or Darwinian process, as I will do, but I wish to emphasize one part of this process — copying. The reason information can increase like this is that, if the necessary raw materials are available, copying creates more information. Of course it is not new information, but if the copies vary (which they will if only by virtue of copying errors), and if not all variants survive to be copied again (which is inevitable given limited resources), then we have the complete three-step process of natural selection (Dennett, 1995). From here novel designs and truly new information emerge. None of this can happen without copying.

I want to make three arguments here.

The first is that humans are unique because they are so good at imitation. When our ancestors began to imitate they let loose a new evolutionary process based not on genes but on a second replicator, memes. Genes and memes then coevolved, transforming us into better and better meme machines.

The second is that one kind of copying can piggy-back on another: that is, one replicator (the information that is copied) can build on the products (vehicles or interactors) of another. This multilayered evolution has produced the amazing complexity of design we see all around us.

The third is that now, in the early 21st century, we are seeing the emergence of a third replicator. I call these temes (short for technological memes, though I have considered other names). They are digital information stored, copied, varied and selected by machines. We humans like to think we are the designers, creators and controllers of this newly emerging world but really we are stepping stones from one replicator to the next.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SECURITY - Big-Money Buyout

"Dealtalk: McAfee buy may trigger more tech security M&A" by Bill Rigby & Paritosh Bansal, Reuters 8/19/2010


Intel Corp's (INTC.O) surprise $7.7 billion bid for McAfee Inc (MFE.N) may trigger more deals as competitors scramble for a piece of the rapidly growing software security sector.

Technology giants Oracle Corp (ORCL.O), Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N), IBM Corp (IBM.N) and EMC Corp (EMC.N) -- which are all looking to expand the "stack" of hardware and software they offer corporate clients -- could move to counter Intel's emergence.

That puts the spotlight on the world's biggest software security company, Symantec Corp (SYMC.O), and a number of smaller companies such as Checkpoint Systems Inc (CKP.N), Sourcefire Inc (FIRE.O), Websense Inc (WBSN.O) and SafeNet.

"We're in the early stages of a major consolidation in software, particularly in security," said FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives. "This deal speaks to the convergence of hardware and software, which is becoming increasingly more important as the industry consolidates."

Big money for corporations, bad news for users. Why, you really think cost and tech support will improve or be cheaper? I would guess not. After all where do you think these companies are going to recoup the cost of acquisitions.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

INTERNET - Reconnecting With Life

"Author Disconnects From Communication Devices to Reconnect With Life"
PBS Newshour 8/16/2010

I learned something from an Executive Secretary, if you feel swamped schedule your day. Which applies to more than just internet life.

Her examples (computer):
  • At work: ONLY check eMail on arrival, 1:00pm, just before leaving for the day

  • At work: Browse the WEB during lunch (1hr for her)

  • At home, workdays: Check eMail during breakfast (just in case something needs doing that day), no WEB browsing

  • At home, weekends: Check eMail once a day ONLY, and limit WEB browsing to ONE day, for a few hours, both AFTER dealing with family needs

  • At home: Go off-line when you do NOT need to use the internet (something I suggested)

NOTE: There is a way to go off-line WITHOUT powering-down your broadband modem/router.
  1. Open Network Connections

  2. Right-click your broadband-connection as listed and select Properties

  3. In the General tab, ensure BOTH checkboxes at bottom are check (makes Connect Icon visible in Taskbar Tray at ALL times)

  4. Exit back to Network Connections dialog and left-click + drag your broadband-connection to desktop and make a shortcut (you can move or copy this anywhere, like your Quick Launch bar)

  5. To go off-line: Right-click the Connect Icon and select Disable

  6. To go online: Use your broadband-connection shortcut, which will enable the connection

Thursday, August 12, 2010

INTERNET - NET Neutrality

"Net Neutrality Is Critical For Innovation" by Albert Wenger, Business Insider SAI 8/12/2010

I am glad to see the net neutrality debate raging. As Union Square Ventures and on our personal blogs (AVC, Continuations) we have long been proponents of net neutrality (the USV link is from 2006!).

Our own bias here is clear: we are pro-startup and pro-innovation. Both are of course essential to the venture capital business, but we believe they are also the lifeblood of the economy. Surprisingly, a lot of people who argue against net neutrality don’t seem to make the connection to innovation and startups at all. That is even more surprising when the criticism comes from someone like Henry Blodget who is clearly the beneficiary of the level playing field provided by net neutrality.

As for the Google-Verizon proposal, my partner Brad has done a terrific job pointing out two of the key problems. I want to go a step further though. Much as I am glad that Google has been a proponent of some aspects of net neutrality, Google is no longer a startup itself! Google’s ability to cross-subsidize new markets from its amazing core business poses a potential threat to innovation that I have written about before. This access to nearly limitless funds is especially important to keep in mind when looking at net neutrality.

Because there are a lot of subtleties once one drills down, it is easy to lose sight of the most basic principle that net neutrality is trying to achieve: the ability for innovative startups to deliver their content and services on a level playing field with incumbents. It is easy to forget this because we have actually de facto had net neutrality, which is what has allowed the creation and rise of services and companies such as Google in the first place. It is hard to argue that the Internet has not unleashed a torrent of innovation that has hugely benefited endusers (at the cost of disrupting some existing businesses). Net neutrality is all about codifying this existing state of the Internet and preventing a distorted playing field that favors incumbents.

Imagine for a moment an Internet in which Google can pay Verizon and others to deliver Youtube videos faster than video content from other sites, including that of your favorite startup. Given Youtube’s existing scale and Google’s ability to cross subsidize, this would forever cement Youtube as the source of Internet video. I fail to see how this could be in anybody’s interest other than Youtube’s and Verizon’s (Business Insider included). That is exactly what the current Google-Verizon proposal would allow for the wireless Internet. Now ask yourself what will be more important in the near future — wireline or wireless delivery of the Internet?The argument that competition among wireless carriers will take care of this seems disingenuous at best when we have all of four carriers left of which two control the bulk of the market. This is an oligopoly in which (even without any talk among carriers), the natural game theoretic equilibrium is one where none of the carriers provides net neutrality and all accept payments from incumbents.

So what could actual net neutrality look like when codified? It could be as simple as saying: carriers can charge people only for their bandwidth (up and down) and cannot accept other payments. In this scheme endusers still pay for bandwidth (as they do today) and bandwidth caps are possible. Youtube still pays for its bandwidth. But Youtube cannot pay for faster delivery, cannot pay for being excluded from consumers’ bandwidth caps etc. As it turns out — and this is again critical to emphasize — that is the status quo! A status quo that has brought us tremendous innovation and sufficient investment by carriers in bandwidth despite their griping.

Finally, to all those who would say that the government doesn’t regulate what people can pay and cannot pay for in other areas, that is of course wrong. You can pay a taxi for taking you from A to B, but paying the taxi to go above the speed limit is not legal. You can pay to get a liver transplant, but you can’t pay to get one faster than others. We full well realize that safety and ethical concerns matter. So does innovation. Net neutrality is all about protecting innovation while still providing the funds for carriers to invest in network growth.

INTERNET - More on Google/Verizon Attempt to Hijack the Wireless WEB

"Web Plan Is Dividing Companies" by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER & BRIAN STELTER, New York Times 8/11/2010

In an emerging battle over regulating Internet access, companies are taking sides.

Facebook, one of the companies that has flourished on the open Internet, indicated Wednesday that it did not support a proposal by Google and Verizon that critics say could let providers of Internet access chip away at that openness.

Meanwhile an executive of AT&T, one of the companies that stands to profit from looser regulations, called the proposal a “reasonable framework.”

Most media companies have stayed mute on the subject, but in an interview this week, the media mogul Barry Diller called the proposal a sham.

And outside of technology circles, most people have not yet figured out what is at stake.

The debate revolves around net neutrality, which in the broadest sense holds that Internet users should have equal access to all types of information online, and that companies offering Internet service should not be able to give priority to some sources or types of content.

In a policy statement on Monday, Google and Verizon proposed that regulators enforce those principles on wired connections but not on the wireless Internet. They also excluded something they called “additional, differentiated online services.”

In other words, on mobile phones or on special access lanes, carriers like Verizon and AT&T could charge content companies a toll for faster access to customers or, some analysts worry, block certain services from reaching customers altogether.

Opponents of the proposal say that the Internet, suddenly, would not be so open anymore.

“All of our life goes through this network, increasingly, and if you can’t reach your boss or get to your remotely stored work, or it’s so slow that you can’t get it done before you give up and you go to bed, that’s a problem,” said Allen S. Hammond IV, director of the Broadband Institute of California at Santa Clara University School of Law. “People need to understand that’s what we’re debating here.”

Decisions about net neutrality rest with the Federal Communications Commission and legislators, and full-throated lobbying campaigns are already under way on all sides. The Google-Verizon proposal was essentially an attempt to frame the debate.

It set off a flood of reaction, much of it negative, from Web companies and consumer advocacy groups. In the most extreme situation that opponents envision, two Internets could emerge — the public one known today, and a private one with faster lanes and expensive tolls.

Google and Verizon defended the exemptions by saying that they were giving carriers the flexibility they need to ensure that the Internet’s infrastructure remains “a platform for innovation.” Carriers say they need to be able to manage their networks as they see fit and generate revenue to expand them.

AT&T said in a statement Wednesday night that “the Verizon-Google agreement demonstrates that it is possible to bridge differences on this issue.”

Much of the debate rests on the idea of paid “fast lanes.” Content companies, the theory goes, would have to pay for favored access to a carrier’s customers, so some Web sites or video services could load faster than others.

That would be a big change from the level playing field that content companies now enjoy, Mr. Diller, who oversees Expedia, Ticketmaster, and other sites, said last month. Speaking of the telecommunications carriers, he said, “They want the equivalent of having the toaster pay for the ability to plug itself into the electrical grid.”

These fast lanes are fairly easy to understand when it comes to wireless Internet access. But what confused many was the suggestion by Google and Verizon that future online services that are not part of the public Internet should also be exempt from equal-access rules.

These services would be “distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services,” the two companies said in a joint blog post. “It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services or new entertainment and gaming options.”

Some experts were puzzled as to what these services might be and why such an exception might be necessary.

“Broadband that’s not the Internet? I don’t know what they’re talking about,” said David A. Patterson, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. “They seem to have an idea of something other than the public Internet as a way to ship information, but by nature, to have value it has to go to a lot of places, and right now, that’s the packet-switched Internet.”

Josh Silver, chief executive of the nonprofit group Free Press, said the exemptions amounted to “the cable-ization of the Internet,” in that cable subscribers pay extra for premium tiers of service and for certain channels. Mr. Silver’s group is promoting a petition to the F.C.C. titled “Don’t Let Google Be Evil.” Silicon Valley investors have expressed trepidation that the new rules, if adopted, could put a damper on innovation, particularly for mobile start-ups.

The wireless Internet is quickly emerging as the dominant technology platform, said Matt Cohler, a general partner at Benchmark Capital, a prominent venture firm in Silicon Valley that has invested in start-ups like Twitter. “It is as important to have the right protections in place for the newer platform as it is for the older platform.”

Facebook sounded a similar note on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it supported net neutrality principles for both wired and wireless networks.

“Preserving an open Internet that is accessible to innovators — regardless of their size or wealth — will promote a vibrant and competitive marketplace where consumers have ultimate control over the content and services delivered through their Internet connections,” the company said.

Technology companies like Amazon and eBay also expressed concern with Google’s compromise, but have been less vocal.

Some start-ups see possible advantages in tiered access. Danny Stein, the chairman of eMusic, a music download service, said there needed to be Internet service that remained open and neutral, “but that doesn’t mean there can’t be premium options to appeal to some amazing consumer experience outside of the garden of net neutrality.”

The silence of big media companies like Comcast and the News Corporation on the issue has been noticeable. Media companies’ traditional business models have been about controlled pathways to the customer, and they may see benefits in restoring some of that control.

Mr. Diller asserted that the Google-Verizon proposal “doesn’t preserve ‘net neutrality,’ full stop, or anything like it.” Asked if other media executives were staying quiet because they stand to gain from a less open Internet, he said simply, “Yes.”

At least Mr. Diller is admitting the truth about the "other" executives. It all about GREED.

LINUX - On the Big Screen, Linux Wars!

"Ubuntu vs. Red Hat: Who really contributes the most to Linux" by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, ComputerWorld 8/2/2010

Last week, Greg DeKoenigsberg, a former Red Hat developer on the Fedora community Linux project and now CTO of The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), ignited a firestorm by showing that, when it comes to code, Red Hat does far more for open-source projects like GNOME than Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, has ever done. To quote DeKoenigsberg: "Canonical is a marketing organization masquerading as an engineering organization."

That went over in Linux circles about as well as you would expect it to.

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth responded with a blog about how tribalism, which Shuttleworth defined as "when one group of people start to think people from another group are 'wrong by default.'" Shuttleworth's point was that turning a discussion of open-source development into a fight over "my Linux distribution is better than yours" is a waste of time.

This isn't a new argument. Ubuntu developers have had to deal with brickbats thrown their way by Debian programmers ever since Ubuntu forked from Debian. Every now and again, Shuttleworth offers a peace branch in Debian's direction, but the distribution flame wars keep burning bright.

Since DeKoenigberg first wrote about Canonical, he's had second thoughts about his tone and apologized for going "over the top." That said, he also still thinks that "Canonical should be doing way more to sustain that platform."

Actually, I think Canonical is doing a lot for Linux. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it is doing as much for Linux as Red Hat these days — just not in code.

What Canonical has done for Linux is exactly what DeKoenigberg accuses them of: marketing Linux. I guarantee you that if you ask Joe and Josie Computeruser to name a Linux, they'll say "Ubuntu." If you ask a CIO or CTO, they'll name Red Hat and possibly Novell's SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server). But Canonical has done more than all the other Linux companies and groups put together to popularize Linux with ordinary people.

Sure, they've made Ubuntu into as close to a household name as Linux has these days, but at the same time they've brought millions of new users to Linux. Many of those people may stick with Ubuntu, but many others will move on to other distributions, such as the Ubuntu fork, Mint, and other Linux distributions including, yes, RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).

Shouldn't that count, too? I think so.

I also think that for a long time there's been too much emphasis on coding. The people who popularize Linux, the people who write about Linux, the people who run LUGs (Linux User Groups) and community Linux shows, and the businesses that have committed to Linux also deserve credit.

Yes, the people who write Linux are vital, and Red Hat is the clear leader in producing code — but it's not just about who writes the code. If you look at the bigger picture, I think Canonical deserves a lot of the credit as well for Linux turning into a grown-up family of operating systems.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

INTERNET - Attempt to Carve-Out WEB Access Niche

"Web Plan From Google and Verizon Is Criticized" by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER & MIGUEL HELFT, New York Times 8/9/2010


Google and Verizon on Monday introduced a proposal for how Internet service should be regulated — and were immediately criticized by groups that favor keeping the network as open as possible.

According to the proposal, Internet service providers would not be able to block producers of online content or offer them a paid “fast lane.” It says the Federal Communications Commission should have the authority to stop or fine any rule-breakers.

The proposal, however, carves out exceptions for Internet access over cellphone networks, and for potential new services that broadband providers could offer. In a joint blog post, the companies said these could include things like health care monitoring, “advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options.”

The two companies are hoping to influence regulators and lawmakers in the debate over a principle known as net neutrality, which holds that Internet users should have equal access to all types of information online.

This principle is crucial for consumers and for fostering innovation among Internet entrepreneurs, Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said in a call with reporters. “The next two people in a garage really do need an open Internet,” he said.

But some proponents of net neutrality say that by excluding wireless and other online services, Google and Verizon are creating a loophole that could allow carriers to circumvent regulation meant to ensure openness.

The plan “creates an Internet for the haves and an Internet for the have-nots,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director at the Media Access Project, an advocacy group in Washington and a member, along with Google, of the Open Internet Coalition. “It may make some services unaffordable for consumers and access to those services unavailable to new start-ups.”

Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon, said the proposal excluded cellphone networks because the companies were “concerned about the imposition of too many rules” that could slow the growth of the wireless Web.

HINT: Eric and his cohorts are only interested in making money, "growth of the wireless Web" = exclusive (non-open) profits me. As if Wireless WEB is different than Internet WEB (WWW).

Personal message for Eric, UP YOURS!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

PC GAMES - University of Washington's Foldit

"In a Video Game, Tackling the Complexities of Protein Folding" by JOHN MARKOFF, New York Times 8/4/2010

In a match that pitted video game players against the best known computer program designed for the task, the gamers outperformed the software in figuring out how 10 proteins fold into their three-dimensional configurations.

Proteins are essentially biological nano-machines that carry out myriad functions in the body, and biologists have long sought to understand how the long chains of amino acids that make up each protein fold into their specific configurations.

In May 2008, researchers at the University of Washington made a protein-folding video game called Foldit freely available via the Internet. The game, which was competitive and offered the puzzle-solving qualities of a game like Rubik’s Cube, quickly attracted a dedicated following of thousands of players.

The success of the Foldit players, the researchers report in this week’s issue of Nature, shows that nonscientists can collaborate to develop new strategies and algorithms that are distinct from traditional software solutions to the challenge of protein folding.

The researchers took pains to credit the volunteers who competed at Foldit in the last two years, listing “Foldit players” at the end of the report’s author list and noting that more than 57,000 players “contributed extensively through their feedback and gameplay.”

Zoran Popovic, a computer scientist at the University of Washington who was a lead author of the paper, said, “If things go according to plan, not too long from now, such massive author lists should be commonplace.” Foldit begins with a series of tutorials in which the player controls proteinlike structures on a computer display. In the game, as structures are modified, a score is calculated based on how well the protein is folded. Players are given a set of controls that let them do things like “shake,” “wiggle” and “rebuild” to reshape the backbone and the amino acid side shapes of a specific protein into a more efficient structure.

A list of top scores for each puzzle is posted so that players can compare their results. Players may also collaborate in teams, tracking progress on a separate list of group scores.

The protein-folding problem can be solved by computers using statistical and related software algorithms, but it takes an immense amount of processing power.

“The problem is that these proteins are far, far more complex than a robotic arm, and can ‘fold’ in time frames measured in billionths of a second,” Duke Ferris, founder of the GameRevolution Web site, wrote recently. “It’s like trying to solve a million-sided Rubik’s Cube while it also spins at 10,000 r.p.m. And that’s for just one ‘fold.’ ”

In a comparison involving 10 separate protein-folding puzzles, video game players matched the results generated by software solutions in three of the puzzles, outperformed them in five cases and found significantly better solutions in two others, according to the scientists.

In addition to the acuity of human pattern-recognition skills, the researchers noted that players outperformed the best software tools in other ways as well, writing: “Humans use a much more varied range of exploration methods than computers. Different players use different move sequences, both according to the puzzle type and throughout the duration of a puzzle.”

The Foldit project was inspired by the volunteers who were contributing the downtime on their home computers to power a protein-folding program called Rosetta@home. The computer donors could see the progress of the program on their screens, and they began to note inefficiencies in the software’s folding approach. That led the scientists to look for ways to systematically harness the skills of the human volunteers.

PC GAMES - PC Gaming is NOT Going to Die

"Are we at the beginning of a PC gaming renaissance?" by Dan Ackerman, CNet News 8/5/2010

The past several years have seen a steady drumbeat of negative prognostications for PC gaming, both as a creative medium and as a viable business. High-profile releases were steered to living room consoles, with perfunctory PC ports at best, and messy DRM and hardware incompatibility made many of the remaining PC games more trouble than they were worth.

Magazines such as Computer Gaming World shut down (after an embarrassing sponsored name change to Games for Windows Magazine) and the only bright spot seemed to be the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft--even if other MMO entries found it hard to bottle that lightning twice.

No one was more at the forefront playing Taps for PC gaming than myself, having gone from a cheerleading booster to sober realist in the space of a few short years.

Yet, for the first time in a long time, I find myself much more interested in what's going on the PC side of the video game industry than the console side. My office and home laptops are suddenly buzzing with new and upcoming games, including StarCraft II, Civilization V, and OnLive's various streaming-game offerings--whereas this year's big list of holiday season console releases elicits a shrug at best, filled by the annual installments of mass-market cash cows. How did this potential reversal of fortune take place?

First, the companies that make PC games and the consumers who play them all seemingly decided it was OK to stretch the boundaries and leave their respective comfort zones. The seeds were planted over the past few years as game publishers opened the door to new ways to distribute their wares, losing the most frustrating parts of the DRM equation with services such as Steam and (say what you will about online authentication, it works a lot better than discs, especially for those of us who like to install games on multiple PCs).

The next step was online stores like Good Old Games that offer classic games for less than $10, completely DRM-free. It's amazing how much goodwill one can build up by not treating customers like criminals.

Third, we opened the doors to new kinds of games, most notably Facebook and other social media games. These may not be what classic Quake-playing twitch jockeys were asking for, but games such as FarmVille and FrontierVille have brought tens of millions of new gamers into the PC-gaming fold. To say these aren't "real" games sounds an awful lot like the late Mitch Miller complaining that rock 'n' roll wasn't real music.

Finally, we largely eliminated the PC-gaming hardware arms race. It's no longer a point of pride to brag about how much your customers will need to spend on their computer rigs to even barely run your game.

StarCraft II is a great example of many of these lessons. The long-awaited sequel looks great on a high-end PC, but also will run easily on a wide range of systems, and even Apple's basic integrated graphics 13-inch MacBook. Installation is as easy as downloading a client software package or using a DVD, but once your game is registered, you don't need a disc, and you can reinstall the game anywhere. I'll also add, as someone who never played the original StarCraft (heresy, I know), the game is surprisingly easy to pick up, and a lot of fun for casual multiplayer matches between friends.

Civilization V (releasing September 21) is another example that works under the new PC-gaming paradigm. More than in previous installments, there's a real emphasis on hand-holding new players as needed, while not dumbing down the experience for anyone else. Using the online service Steam as a distribution channel is also key; I can especially see Civ V players wanting to have the game at home, and them maybe installing it on a work laptop when traveling. Like StarCraft II, the game is also very flexible with hardware requirements, and I got a prerelease version to run well on systems as basic as an 11-inch high-end Netbook with integrated graphics and AMD's dual-core Neo processor.

We've written several times about the new online gaming service OnLive. Though still in an extended beta period, the high-concept idea is that A-list PC games are rendered remotely on server farms while you play, and the actual gameplay footage is beamed back to you in real time. It sounds far-fetched, and I was highly skeptical of the entire concept. But in our hands-on tests, it let us play all sorts of current games on nearly any laptop, including Netbooks. The fact that anyone can hypothetically play even the most hardware-intensive PC game is a great equalizer, and shouldn't be underestimated as a potential entry point for new gamers.

However, there's one formerly big part of the PC-gaming universe that won't be making a comeback, and that's the classic first-person shooter. Case in point: the last major PC-only shooter that generated a lot of buzz was Crysis, a game specifically designed to show off your expensive high-end gaming hardware. A few years later, the big-budget sequel is being pitched almost exclusively as a console game. Sure, there will also be a PC version of Crysis 2, but that's not the development focus any more. Doom, Wolfenstein, Quake, and others were the driving force behind PC gaming for many years, but in this new PC gaming renaissance, they're not getting invited along for the ride.

Update: I'm apparently not alone in my rediscovered appreciation for PC gaming, says, "Love it or hate it, PC gaming seems to be having a great year."

ON THE LITE SIDE - Robonaut 2

"Robot butler for astronauts is a hit on Twitter"
By Zo Macintosh, MSNBC 8/5/2010