Category: Op-Ed

The Op-Ed category contains posts that are primarily opinion-based. Posts in this category may contain important information or discuss newsworthy topics but will be written from a specific point of view.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed on .

Zoom’s meteoric rise to the top of the video conferencing market makes sense when you consider that their platform is, in fact, fairly good. So far, Zoom has managed to avoid many of the pain points that plague other video conferencing solutions:

  • No account is required to join a call, and calls can be joined from any platform (even from Android, iOS, and Linux).
  • Call quality is excellent, even on slow Internet connections.
  • The platform can be used for free by anyone and it’s easy to create an account.
  • Zoom is a standalone product with a singular focus rather than an add-on feature like Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts.

Additionally, Zoom’s user experience is good, especially when it comes to joining a meeting. It’s hard to simplify that process much further than “here, click this link”. Overall, Zoom is easy enough to use, and it manages to keep its myriad of advanced features from getting in the way of hosting simple meetings.

UX Versus UI

With that said, Zoom is still far from perfect. While Zoom’s user experience (UX) is relatively frictionless, I’m still surprised by inconsistencies that exist in its user interface (UI). In my opinion, Zoom struggles with two main UI issues: consistency and clarity.


For one, the website shares none of the design cues of the desktop and mobile apps. Buttons don’t even share the same names: the blue “Host a Meeting” link on the website competes with a large orange “New Meeting” button in the app. The meanings of both buttons are clear upon inspection, but this means that users have to become familiar with two separate interfaces before feeling comfortable using Zoom.

Some website features don’t appear in the app, and vice versa. For example, the “Previous Meetings” tab on the website doesn’t map back to anything in the “Meetings” section of the app. Similarly, the links in the navigation bar at the top of the app (Home/Chat/Meetings/Contacts) don’t match anything on the website.

Most frustratingly, the “Schedule a Meeting” interface on the website is substantially different from the one in the app. While the website prompts you to choose a start time and duration (and only allows you to adjust those times in half hour increments), the app asks for a start time and end time. The form options themselves are labeled differently: the start time is listed as “When” on the website and as “Date” in the app. At the bottom of the form, the advanced meeting options aren’t even presented in a consistent order between the two interfaces.

Finally, weird things occasionally happen while using Zoom. For example, when I went to unmute someone in a recent meeting, the participant list started arbitrarily reordering itself every few seconds. This made it almost impossible to choose the right person, as someone else would jump under my mouse cursor before I clicked. I’m still not sure if this was an intended feature, but it doesn’t make sense that it would be.


On the clarity side, some of the buttons in the app aren’t immediately recognizable as buttons. The Join Audio/Share Screen/Invite Others trio is the most notable example of this issue:

I’ve been using Zoom for a while now, and every time I launch a meeting I have to remind myself that those three pieces of clip art are actually clickable. Additionally, since the introductory screen vanishes once other participants join, these buttons can’t be relied upon throughout the duration of a meeting.


Zoom’s UI does get one thing right: every button is clearly labeled with a description of what it does. While this may not be the most aesthetically pleasing choice, it makes it easy for untrained users to get started with Zoom. For that reason alone, I appreciate Zoom’s simple and unglamorous UI, but it’s still important that it isn’t so simplistic and inconsistent that it detracts from the user experience.

Further Reading

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed on .

Apple released iOS 12 to the public this Monday, where it immediately became available for download on a sizable list of supported devices. As announced at WWDC this year, iOS 12 is a conservative release intended to prioritize performance improvements and bug fixes over shiny new features.

As it turns out, iOS 12 delivers on those promises.

New Life for Old Hardware

Apple’s continued support for the iPhone 5S and iPad Air directly contradicts the idea that the company intentionally sabotages older hardware.

Ever since the release of iOS 7 for the iPhone 4 and the release of iOS 8 for the iPhone 4S, it’s been clear that new iOS releases have the potential to cripple old hardware. However, this isn’t 2014 anymore, and Apple is supporting a much more capable lineup of devices. It’s also clear that Apple is trying to provide a more consistent and usable experience across all supported devices.

iOS 12 is remarkably fast on an original iPad Air, a device that was sold so long ago that it originally shipped with iOS 7. There’s no fooling anyone into thinking that an Air with iOS 12 is a brand-new iPad, but it turns an almost-obsolete tablet into a very usable device.

On my iPhone 7, iOS 12 feels just as fast as it did with iOS 10, which is what it originally shipped with back in 2016. There’s less dropped frames than in iOS 11, and this is the first time I can remember an iOS update making my phone feel faster instead of making it feel slightly out of date. It doesn’t hurt that almost all the new features in iOS 12 are supported across Apple’s entire lineup as well, with the exception of ARKit which requires an A9 processor or later (iPhone 6S or newer).

In the end, it’s great to see Apple committing to a better user experience for new and old iOS customers. There’s never been a better time to own an older iPhone.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed on .

A couple of days ago, an article titled “Here’s another really great reason to never touch Linux” rolled through my Apple News feed. I clicked on it, expecting to see a breakdown of some massive vulnerability or maybe just a good rant about someone not being able to find drivers for their AMD graphics card. However, as I started reading, I found myself in the middle of one of the most dangerously misleading clickbait articles I’ve read this entire year.

If you haven’t seen the article I would encourage you to go read it, if only for context, and then come back here to see what makes it so dangerously inaccurate.

The author starts off with a cheap shot at Linus Torvalds, dismisses the massive Linux community as “geeks”, and then reveals that the article is actually about the recent hack of Canonical’s highly popular Ubuntu Forums, which really has nothing to do with Linux at all. The Ubuntu Forums are a community-driven space to discuss Ubuntu, a popular distribution of Linux. I’m not sure whether or not the author understands the difference between Ubuntu, a distribution, and Linux, the open-source operating system started by Linus Torvalds in 1991, but the distinction is important. Linux is different from MacOS or Windows in that anyone can use the Linux kernel and build their own distribution. A distribution is just a collection of different bits – software utilities, graphical user interfaces, and more – that add user functionality. Ubuntu is just one popular, open-source distribution.

Regardless, the forums hack has nothing to do with Ubuntu, much less Linux as a whole, aside from the fact that the forums are for discussing Ubuntu. In fact, the security flaw that allowed a hacker to access the Ubuntu Forums database exists in an old version of a piece of software called Forumrunner, an add-on that powers parts of the forums. Just to be clear: absolutely nothing related to the Linux kernel or any part of the Linux OS was breached or exploited in any way. Canonical explains this in a blog post. The hack of the Ubuntu Forums is solely a commentary on Canonical’s security practices, and Canonical is just a company and is in no way in charge of the Linux project.

Despite these facts, the author of the above mentioned article seems to consider the hack of an isolated Linux forum to be some valid reason not to use Linux. That’s a bit like saying the LinkedIn password leak is “another really great reason not to have a job”.

There are other inaccuracies and irrelevant comments in the article as well, but mainly it’s just downright misleading. As a system administrator and a long-time Linux user, it’s easy to spot the article as being clickbait, but someone unfamiliar with Linux could easily get the wrong impression. If you’re going to scare people away from Linux, at least write about graphics drivers.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed on .

(Editor’s note: This is not my favorite take on the Apple-FBI case. There are still several reasons why the existence of an iPhone backdoor, no matter how complex, would be a threat to the security of all iPhone users. This article was meant to emphasize the fact that the FBI’s desired solution in the 2016 case was not a remote backdoor but instead a tool that could unlock iPhones only if they were possessed in person. However, this article glosses over several facts, like the potential for phones to be stolen or removed during customs checks or the potential for abuse by less scrupulous foreign governments if the proposed tool was ever leaked. There are certainly situations in which the possibility of a government seizing a cell phone without proper legal precedent is a reality.)

If you’ve been on the Internet in the past couple months, you’ve most likely read about the Apple-FBI debate surrounding the San Bernadino iPhone. This post isn’t intended to be a full breakdown of the case, so if you’d like to catch up on what’s happened so far, I would recommend reading articles from Wired, The Verge, Macworld, and any other sites, including Apple’s Customer Letter. Sometime in the future, I hope to write a more in-depth breakdown covering what’s going on, so keep an eye out for future posts. With that aside, I wanted to bring up something that might make the case seem a little less dramatic for all of us security-conscious iPhone users out there, and will make sense to anyone who’s read up on the FBI’s request of Apple.

There are two important notes about the FBI’s request that make the idea of a custom built iPhone passcode-breaker seem a little less scary. One, to actually use the passcode-guessing software that the FBI wants Apple to build, the FBI (or any law enforcement agency, for that matter) would need full, unfettered, and long-term physical access to the phone. This is not a software backdoor that would allow remote access to the iPhone; rather, it’s a tool that would require extensive time and physical access to use. To use the tool, law enforcement would have to physically confiscate your phone, and at that point we can assume that you’ve done something to generate probable cause.

The second point to consider is that the FBI is banking on the possibility that the passcode on the San Bernadino iPhone is short enough that it can be brute-forced. Logistically, the passcode needs to be four digits to be easily cracked. If you use an iPhone with a six-digit passcode – or better yet, a custom alphanumeric code – the passcode-breaking software will still work, but the time required to successfully brute-force the passcode would generally make the attack infeasible.

Bottom line: if you have a four-digit passcode, and you feel that you’re in imminent danger of having your iPhone confiscated by the police, you might need to worry about your security. Or, you could stop doing whatever it is that would make you a police suspect in the first place. Ed: this is an over-generalization regarding the circumstances in which a cell phone could be confiscated by a government. The rest of us can just set up six-digit passcodes and continue on with our lives.

Updated Posted by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed on .

Today I accidentally fell victim to something I knew about but was not watching for, thanks to CNET: adware. Knowing that CNET tends to unethically package junkware with their software downloads, I try my best to avoid them, but I was looking for a discontinued Dashboard widget for a Mac (iStat Pro, to be precise) and the only download I could find was through, of course, CNET. Well, I thought, I’ll take the plunge. I know about adware and can probably avoid any unwanted installations, right?

Unfortunately not. I got distracted at just the wrong time and clicked “Install” when I shouldn’t have. The result: my search engines in Chrome and Safari changed to Yahoo! and a plethora of Spigot adware and toolbars installed on a MacBook that I had just performed a clean install of Mavericks on. Worse yet, I had just signed in to Chrome and so my newly installed and unwanted extensions were now synced with the rest of my computers.

This is truly unacceptable behavior from a site that hosts downloads and even professes to be a reliable source of software. My recommendation is never to use CNET’s downloads again and to avoid any Spigot software. The photo below is the screen that I missed and which contained the options not to install a bunch of junk on my Mac.