Small Biz Mac, This blog focuses on using Mac as the foundation of a small business--the operating platform, the market, and more. This blog will discuss both the challenges of operating a business on Mac hardware and software, and the impact of the broader Mac market on business.

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Kevin Walzer and Lori Jareo, publishers, software developers, Mac/iPhone users, and small business owners.

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Thu, 23 Nov 2017

New app versions

We've released version 3.1 of The Lake Effect and version 1.1 of Snowbird Shores, two apps for iOS that deal with travel to different parts of the country--the upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, and the Southeast/Atlantic Coast/Gulf Coast regions.

It's been about 18 months since we released previous versions of the apps; these updates were prompted mainly by the iPhone X, which has a different form factor than other iPhones, and a note from Google--whose Admob advertising system we were using in the apps to generate revenue for them--that we only had a short time to update our apps to support the iPhone X and comply with Google's terms of service.

We ultimately decided to remove Admob from the apps because support for the iPhone X does not seem to be coming, at least in the near future, from the plugin we use to support Admob. As a result, we decided to place links to new pages on the websites that these apps support, which will periodically be updated in the future.

The apps still make use of JQuery Mobile, a nice Javascript framework that makes optimizing web pages for mobile platforms simple. We had moved to JQuery Mobile a couple of years ago because the previous Javascript library we used had been abandoned by its author. At the time JQuery Mobile was widely used and well-supported by a large community, but we seem to have started working with it just as its development slowed and its community started drifting away. The library has seen no significant updates in the past couple of years and is now seen as nearly obsolete in the Javascript world. ßWe don't plan to rework my apps in yet another framework, however. JQuery Mobile is good enough for what these apps need and trying to keep up with the latest fashion is exhausting. Frameworks come and go in the Javascript community with unbelievable speed; it's nearly impossible to stay on top with what is currently popular, and even popular frameworks often get substantially rewritten, forcing apps that rely on them to also undergo significant re-working. I've never understood the library churn in the Javascript world, why things come and go so much, and why developers put up with it.

In any case, if you have any interest in travel to either region these apps cover, feel free to install them on your iOS device. They are free.

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Sun, 15 Jan 2017

Let's Encrypt

We've recently updated all twelve or so of the websites we maintain to be fully secure, supporting the encrypted HTTPS protocol. What this means is that data sent from our websites to a browser or other client will be encrypted, and thus impossible to hack into. While encryption is typical of sites that handle financial transactions such as PayPal, it's also becoming increasingly common with non-financial sites as well just because of the increasing risks from hackers and surveillance in this age of Edward Snowden.

What's made our move in this direction is Let's Encrypt, which aims to serve as a "free, automated, and open Certificate Authority." Sponsored by the not-for-profit Internet Security Research Group (ISRG), Let's Encrypt provides a free and (relatively) simple mechanism to provide website security. ISRG is funded by both industry and individual donations.

It took us a weekend to figure out how to generate the certificates, install them, and configure our Mac OS X server to direct all web traffic to the secure HTTP port. It's a fairly small investment of time to significantly increase the security of our websites, and, by extension, the web itself.

The emergence of Let's Encrypt both reflects the trend toward increasing security on the web, and also is helping to make it happen. It's doubtful that a community, non-profit effort would have succeeded had there not already been a critical mass of concern about web security. But Let's Encrypt's relative ease-of-use, at least for those with basic skills in managing websites and server configuration, are helping to accelerate the trend toward security.

Its price--free--also helps. Encryption/SSL certificates for all the websites we operate could have been procured from a commercial source, but only at the cost of hundreds of dollars a year. For a small business, that's something that has to be weighed carefully. We pay hundreds of dollars for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription because those tools literally make our business possible. The benefits of encryption are harder to quantify economically, at least in terms of increased profitability. But if the only investment is time, then it's an easier to call.

Thanks so much to the people who make Let's Encrypt possible.

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