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Parallel Desktops

OpenDNS, a great free way to speed up the interwebs

Last night I was doing some research and went to pull up the Ruby On Rails site. Unfortunately when I did I could not connect. My DNS server wasn’t resolving it properly. Assuming it was Verizon’s problem I embarked on a long and ultimately fruitless attempt to find out why rubyonrails.org was not resolving. While doing this I tweeted about it and suddenly got responses from people explaining that there were some problems with that domain name. It wasn’t the Verizon DNS server after all.

So Twitter helped me out, but that wasn’t the end of the assistance. Chad Hohner (@hohner) told me about using OpenDNS, something that will help improve network performance (at least as it relates to name resolution). I figured it was worth a try and changed the DNS on my Mac Pro to using OpenDNS’s servers. The performance improvement for me was dramatic, so much so that I changed back to the Verizon servers, flushed my DNS cache and started testing different sites. I then switched back to OpenDNS, flushed my DNS cache again and timed page loads.

The difference was stunning. On some sites I saw little or no improvement, especially on the very popular sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. It was when I started visiting lessor sites that I saw a performance improvement of up to 28%. This was a dramatic improvement, takes seconds to do and costs nothing.

Do it now, watch the difference
You can try it out quite easily on a Mac right now; nothing to sign up for, just update your DNS settings to use OpenDNS’s servers. Fire up System Preferences / Network and select your primary ethernet device.


Click on Advanced, then add these two servers into the DNS section:

208.67.222.222
208.67.220.220

Once they are added in, close it out and open a terminal prompt and flush your DNS cache. I believe System Preferences does this automatically but just to be sure you can enter this in a terminal prompt:

dscacheutil -flushcache

At that point you are using the OpenDNS servers. If the performance looks good then you can also set up your router to hand out those DNS settings to all of your machines. OpenDNS has pretty detailed instructions for how to handle it. I did that to my Verizon router and now all of the machines in the house are operating much more quickly.

OpenDNS Services
There’s more to OpenDNS than just offering a free DNS service. They also offer content filtering and parental controls, which will allow you to set high level filters on the types of sites that your machines can access as well as specific categories that will limit access.

This is handled by signing up for an account (again, free) and optionally installing a small menu bar application that will maintain your IP address with OpenDNS. I installed this little notifier in a couple of minutes on my primary Mac Pro since it’s always connected to this network.

Is it really free?
I was curious about how OpenDNS was able to provide these services for free and did a little research. It turns out that they make their revenue on ads that are displayed if you enter a domain name that is incorrect. If you never fat-finger a domain name then you’ll likely never see the ads, but enough people do that it generates the revenue needed to power this service.

There are two things I really got out of this little experience:

1) OpenDNS is very cool and I highly recommend that you try it out

2) Twitter continues to provide a really valuable resource for getting information quickly and easily. Thanks again Chad!

Got a tip for speeding up your network connection? Please drop a note in the comments! And as always, you can follow me on Twitter.

Visit DavidAlison.com

Categories
Parallel Desktops

Baby Shaking Apps and Other Challenges for Apple’s App Store


My wife and I were going through our morning routine, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper when suddenly she said “I can’t believe Apple!”. We share many core beliefs—especially on politics—so I usually give her a nod, offer a “Yup” and continue reading my section.

Me: “What about Apple?”

Wife: “They have a shaking baby iPhone application!!! This is outrageous!”

Me: “Honey, Apple didn’t make that application.”

Wife: “Well they had it in the App Store. That’s just stupid.”

I completely understand that Apple is generating some significant revenue from their App Store sales and that it has become a major part of their strategy moving forward. The problem as I see it is that Apple is putting itself in a very precarious position. Instead of just worrying about whether or not the application will break an iPhone, chew up resources, etc. Apple now has to worry about the content.

The problem as I see it is two-fold: Apple is now associated with the content of applications that run on an iPhone. The second is that Apple is setting a precedent that will carry forward as small devices like the iPhone get more powerful and start to merge with traditional desktops and laptops.

Being Associated with Content
Since Apple is essentially taking responsibility for the content on the iPhone they are putting themselves in a no-win situation. Clearly a shaking baby application is egregious to virtually anyone, but what about other topics. The US alone is a highly polarized place with issues like gay marriage, torture, bail-outs, taxes, etc. provoking strong arguments. Throw in the fact that Apple is a global company and now you have to police these issues in every country you want to sell into.

Now try to apply a rule set that works for the people sitting in the Apple App Store review area. Every single app needs to be approved and the rate will only increase. Mistakes like the Shaking Baby app will happen again and again.

Apple has crafted this brilliant company image, spending billions of dollars on stores, training, application standards, etc. and now a minor mistake by the guy or gal down in the App Store review area makes headlines everywhere and it’s directly associated with Apple, not the author of the application.

The Orwellian Future
This is today’s problem. What about tomorrow’s? Portable devices are becoming more and more powerful. It won’t be long before we’ll see the technologies start to merge and iPhones will be just as powerful as a laptop or netbook class machine. As this merge happens how will Apple distinguish between applications that are specific to the iPhone and those that run on a more traditional machine?

Can you imagine a day when Apple has to authorize any software that is installed on your Apple device, including what today is your Mac? Technology advances mean these products will converge in the near future and Apple will need to live with the standards (and revenue streams) they have come to depend on.

How can Apple solve this problem?
There are numerous solutions to this issue, all with strengths and weaknesses. Apple could stop worrying about application content entirely and focus on highly objective measures like memory usage, stability, etc. They could have a class of applications that have been rated for content and others that have not. They could even license out the deployment of iPhone applications to other companies, allowing those companies to be responsible for the content.

Rest assured though, this is going to become a bigger problem down the road. Can you imagine if the developers of a web browser were responsible for the web pages that were viewed through them? This is effectively the role that Apple has staked out for itself.

What do you think? Is this really a problem that Apple needs to figure out?

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