Monday, July 27, 2009

Microsoft Store Details Leaked

The Microsoft Store

You know it's a slow news week when the top story is a leak about the Microsoft store that's been announced but no one cares about. Still, the leak was interesting enough that I thought it was worth talking about.

When most people hear about the Microsoft store, they probably wonder why Microsoft needs their own store. Isn't every electronics store a Microsoft store, after all? Well, the concept is to take the best elements from what you see at the Apple stores and the Sony Style stores. There are, obviously, other brand-oriented electronics stores (like Nokia, for example) that they claim to take ideas from, but I see the most elements from those two. The real goal here is to re-brand Microsoft. In a weird way, it makes a lot of sense. Vista has given Microsoft a huge black eye. I don't think Vista is the worst thing Microsoft has put out (I don't think it's half bad, to be honest), but it's still done a lot of damage to their name. An ad campaign and Windows 7 goes a long way towards fixing that, but a store would help even more. The Apple stores have drummed up a lot of excitement for the iPod and iPhone releases as they provide a more personal link to Apple and its products. With Microsoft, you just have the knowledge of whoever happens to be working in Best Buy the day you walk in. Imagine walking into a Microsoft store and seeing a wall that's really a screen that helps inspire your own decal for your PC, which you can then customize using a Microsoft Surface table computer:

Other big ideas include an Answers Bar (think Apple Genius Bar), in-store demos of products you'd ordinarily only read about (can you imagine testing out Project Natal for yourself?), and inviting product layouts on the tables. In general, they really want a store that's going to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling and give you a direct channel with Microsoft rather than relying on third parties to help you buy or solve problems. The idea is starting to grow on me the more I read about it, but I don't know if they're really going to be able to pull it off. It's definitely going to be hit or miss though. Either they're going to nail it or they're going to crash and burn.

I have much less faith in the Alienware kiosk idea. Why would you want to buy over-priced gaming rigs at a kiosk in Micro Center? I think the Alienware brand is starting to get dated. I feel like the PC gamers have become more sophisticated than the guys at Alienware.

Amazon Buys Zappos

It's official: has acquired Zappos for around $880 million in stock! Given that they were probably the biggest player in online apparel out there, I think it's awesome that they're now part of the Amazon family. They honestly have a lot of ideals that fall in line with Amazon's core values, and so I almost feel silly that I didn't figure out in advance that this was going to happen. It will continue to operate independently under the wing of Amazon and maintain the culture they've cultivated there. Obviously, there will be a lot of sharing of ideas and I'm sure that it will only improve Zappos and

One thing about this that I thought was really awesome is that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) prepared a video for the Zappos employees that I totally flipped my lid for. I shared it with as many people as I could because this is the kind of stuff I go to work every day for. These are the values that my manager goes to bat for, and I feel like it's very honest. It's not lip service, it really is reflective of the kinds of things he communicates to us directly and the stuff that propagates down the food chain through our managers. I feel like he's a really down-to-earth kind of guy when he speaks and I enjoy that style.

Oh, and Amazon posted Q2 results. Year-over-year growth was still solid considering the economic situation, but profits were down from last quarter. I don't think that's a big shock though given our normal Q2 results.

HTC Hero

Engadget reviewed the HTC Hero, and they didn't sound too impressed with it. Unless I'm terribly mistaken, this is the first touchscreen Android phone without a keyboard to be sold in America. It has been available under different names around the world, and it doesn't look like they did much to improve it for its stateside release in terms of hardware. It sounds to be, once again, a case of good software ideas put to shame with underpowered hardware. This is become a sad tale for Android. I really am rooting for Android. I'm rooting more for webOS, of course, because I have a Pre, but I think Android has great potential. Looking at the layout of HTC's modifications on the platform to help make it easily personalizable on the Hero via widgets is actually pretty neat, but if the phone runs like a hog then it's all for naught.

iPhone 3GS Encryption Sucks

I was disappointed with how Apple billed the iPhone 3GS to the public. I feel that they were talking about things without the fine print. The feature to locate your phone if lost is cool, but they don't mention that you need a stupid MobileMe account to take advantage of this or that a thief could easily turn this off if your phone isn't password protected. Then there's the encryption targeted at enterprise users, but this is irresponsible. Jailbreaking the phone and getting the raw disk image isn't hard, as videos posted online corroborate. No encryption is perfect, but the encryption in this case is useless (much like in some of the earlier Diebold voting machines). To market your device around a feature that's inherent broken is crazy. Even the remote wipe feature that MobileMe touts can be easily disabled by removing the SIM card. You don't have to implement features like this, but if you do then you should do them properly.

While I'm on security, I really enjoyed this article about research to create self-destructing text. It's basically specially encrypted text that can be easily decrypted via a Firefox plug-in if opened within a certain time frame. I don't know how bullet proof it is right now, but it's a good idea, at the least.

The B&N eBook Store

Here's something you may not think you'd hear this decade: the market for books is really heating up. Barnes and Noble has recognized the threat coming from Sony's eReader and Amazon's Kindle and have decided to team up with Plastic Logic (who have been trying to sell their hardware to suppliers for a while now, but I haven't talked about it because I never found these stories very interesting) to sell eBooks. They're not going to sell exclusively with the Plastic Logic reader, and it's not even clear if they'll sell the readers (though they probably will), but the point is that they're jumping into the market on the bandwagon of a nascent competitor. From what I've read about the reader though, I'm not impressed. It's cool that it'll support a wide range of formats, but you won't be able to buy on the reader itself, and the pricing isn't clear yet.

webOS 1.1 is Out

The long awaited 1.1 update of webOS for the Palm Pre was released last week, and it came with a wide variety of fixes and upgrades. It didn't hit everyone's wish lists, but it covered important points like full implementation of the Exchange Active Sync protocols, an improved Javascript engine for the browser, performance improvements throughout the OS, fixing the broken sync with iTunes, and the beautiful font seen elsewhere in the OS is now baked right into web pages as they're rendered.

Quick Notes

As always: it's past my bed time so here are some one-liners.

Cisco demoed their vision for the future of virtual meetings with holographic-like displays, and it looks awesome.

You can now search for stuff in Google Maps while keeping the route you requested directions for.

Star Trek is finally available for pre-order at Amazon on Blu-ray and DVD. Despite all Blu-ray bashing in the past couple of months in mass media, the top selling movie on Amazon is Watchmen on Blu-ray and even Star Trek is at #6 on Blu-ray while at #7 on DVD. Anyway, the official site has an extended trailer for the DVD and Blu-ray editions, though it looks like the Blu-ray actually has more extras include a 360 interactive view of the starship. I pre-ordered my copy and am really stoked for November 17!

Yahoo is preparing to release a re-vamp of their UI soon, and you can check it out straight from the home page.

This is a great round-up of alternative mp3 players to the iPod that are actually pretty solid. The Archos is definitely a highly respected line, and the Zune has been gaining credibility over the years, as well.

Lastly, I was on ESPN! Check me out around 0:20 in this clip in the upper right corner.

I haven't decided if I'll put up an essay next week or a normal post, but I'll figure something out. Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Office 2010 Goes Online

Office 2010 Technical Preview

I don't know what was going on last week that there was so little news, but the most interesting thing to come out was truly that they new Office is now available for testing. Why is that interesting? Because I don't think I've talked about the fact that Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and probably other applications within the Office suite will be available online to use to store, share, and edit documents. Google was the first major player to the collaborative document editing game, but Microsoft is the one with the the enterprise standard software spanning more than two decades of development. Google Docs and its friends are great for students and just normal folk, but has not been considered secure enough for a lot of big companies and they haven't had a whole lot of success selling it to enterprises. Given that online functionality will be free to most companies though when they upgrade to Office 2010, Microsoft will have no problem. The fact that Google Docs exists and people use it at all shows that Microsoft has fallen behind and has gotten an appropriate nudge from Google. Could Office 2010 edge out Google from the market? Probably not. It has gotten a pretty good reputation in education and some small businesses, but they will probably be marginalized to the fringes of the market unless they can somehow 1up the Office web application. I'm not saying that's possible, but from what I've heard from insiders, this is going to be a great suite of web applications.

What else is new in Office 2010? Not a whole lot. It's really just an incremental improvement over Office 12. To be honest, I'd be happy with bug fixes, performance tweaks, and an overhaul of Outlook. I love Office 12 - except for Outlook. Of course, Outlook is going to just get small improvements, as well, since fixing how heavy it is would make too much sense. What I find coolest is that OneNote will integrate online. If I can get OneNote on my Pre, I'll be happy camper because I actually prefer the OneNote UI to Evernote, but I love the portability of Evernote. It just ties back into what I was saying with Google: shouldn't they have already done the online syncing like Evernote is? It feels like Office 2010 is a response to the market more than anything else. While this disappoints me because it almost seems like everyone else is coming up with the ideas for them, I feel like Office is a market leader for a reason and this new release is likely to keep it in the lead. I hope that they take some more time for the next Office though and really give us something to provide some innovation. With all the web integration possible, it shouldn't be too hard to come up with ideas.

Azure Takes On AWS

Let's continue on with Microsoft for a bit more. With Azure, Microsoft has its crosshairs on products like Amazon Web Services that provide the digital raw materials that developers need to build their web applications. They've finally announced pricing, and it's not quite as competitive to AWS as I would've thought. I'm a little surprised that they're entering this market so late because it's definitely not an easy market to join unless you have a really big advantage, but I'm not seeing it. It sounds like their pricing structure will be more complicated than what AWS charges, but I've heard that they may be differentiating in offering more advanced services than what Amazon provides, which is where you're paying a premium. I'm sure that more details are forthcoming, and it'll be interesting to see who gets on board with them.

Microsoft Streams Music

I have one last piece of Microsoft news for you. They're planning to launch a streaming music service this month similar to Spotify that would let you stream and share any music you'd like if you can put up with some ads, or pay a monthly fee to remove the ads. I think it's going to be a huge challenge for them since music is always hairy to work with, but it could end up being awesome. A free music service that works on your computer, Xbox 360, and Zune could be very appealing. If they allow it to be on mobile devices other than the Zune, I think that they can really do well with it - but I don't imagine that they'd have it available on other platforms initially. The Internet radio market is still very experimental and while this sounds like it's freer than an Internet radio station I hope that they have the resources to create a business model for it that works well.

Nokia Gets No Love

I've recently made reference on more than one occasion that Nokia is actually the worldwide leader in cell phones even though I'm sure that if you polled people who have or know about the iPhone they'd think that Apple is king of smartphones. So why don't you see more Americans get as excited about a Nokia phone as a Blackberry or an iPhone? I think at the head of it is really their poor carrier relationships. Who's going to buy a $700 N97 (no carrier will subsidize it) when you can get a $200 iPhone or Pre (or a Blackberry for even less)? The next biggest thing has to be their software. Whenever I've shopped for a phone I've never been impressed by a Symbian phone. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if more people in the U.S. have heard of webOS than Symbian. Despite how long its been around, they haven't attracted a lot of great applications. Without that, how can they have a long tailed future? I think that there's more room for a pendulum swing in cell phones, especially smart phones, than most other markets. I think it's very possible for Nokia to fall off their throne in the next 5 years if competitors get more aggressive. With Android and the iPhone pushing harder worldwide, Nokia definitely has cause for concern. It's only a matter of time before Palm gets its worldwide strategy in place, as well. I think that their inability to attract American consumers is a leading indicator that they're not going to be able to attract international excitement for their products either.

Facebook Pimps Your Photos

Facebook has really been making it too easy to take jabs at them. The Download Squad blog called them out for farming out users' pictures in advertisements served to their friends. While it could be disabled, it was initially turned on by default. This is pretty slimy, in my opinion. I don't see any scenario in which it's ok to use people's likenesses to sell products without compensating them. If stuff like this continues to crop up, I definitely see users wondering how they can trust Facebook.

TechCrunch Uses Leaked Twitter Documents

I don't really have a lot to say about this story, but it's important enough to bring up for you to think about it. An undisclosed hacker managed to gain access to the account for a Twitter employee and leaked some private documents. Techcrunch bought access to these documents and is prepared to use information from them while Twitter feels that they're acting on stolen trade secrets. I'm rooting for Twitter here: even if TechCrunch didn't steal the documents, it's unethical as a journalist to spread stolen information in the face of being asked not to. They're not really journalists though, they're bloggers. Their audience isn't as big as many newspapers, so do they count? Since mass media sometimes gets tipped off from these blogs, I think so. What do you think?

Final Stories

Once again, I'm out of time. Let's go for a lightning round!

The DDoS attacks I mentioned last week against the US and South Korea may have just been the work of some hooligans inn Asia since the attack seemed rather unsophisticated.

Microsoft reportedly was called by someone at Apple who asked them to stop running the laptop hunters ad campaign. Much to Apple's chagrin, the ads are, in fact, working.

ShareTV has recently grown quite a bit and aggregated a lot more TV shows. This is a great site to use as your digital television portal.

Amazon launched a store for outdoor recreation!

If you've ever seen a piece of computer circuitry and stared at it in wonder, now you can look up what it is.

Mashable posted a bunch of inspirational design videos from Vimeo that I think are really neat. It's worth checking out for fun (especially Muto).

Popular Mechanics has a cool story about the next evolution of touchscreen technology being buttons that can pop-up when necessary. Very cool idea for dealing with touch keyboards.

Apple has blocked the Pre from syncing with iTunes in the latest update, but that's been overshadowed by the release of the Mojo SDK! I still need to play with it (was having install issues tonight).

I don't know if I'll have a post up next Sunday since my parents are going to be here, but I've been working on an essay that I'll be putting up either next Sunday or the following Sunday. Have a great week!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Google's [N]OS

Google Chrome OS

Every other tech blogger is talking about Google Chrome OS, and since it was the biggest news of last week I'd be remiss to not talk about it myself. Wikipedia (the ultimate authority for information on anything, of course) defines an operating system (OS) as "an interface between hardware and user...responsible for the management and coordination of activities and the sharing of the resources of the computer". To break it down even more: it abstracts away the details of the hardware its run on so that software manufacturers can easily develop the software you love/hate to use. Of course, you probably are already familiar with the biggest ones on the market right now: Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and, probably to a much lesser extent (save the geeks out there), Linux. Linux is the only one of the three that's open source, and as such it comes in many flavors, or distributions, so that it's customized for the end user in terms of what's supported right out of the box and what it's optimized for. Companies on Linux tend to use Red Had Enterprise Linux while a lot of individuals and universities tend to stick to Ubuntu, and there are many more in between. In fact, webOS (the OS for the Palm Pre) is running on Linux as is Google's
Android mobile platform (currently only available on the G1 in the U.S.). Typically, Linux companies make their money off of support.

Ok, that's enough of a crash course in operating systems, so what is this Google Chrome OS thing? In a very terse nutshell, it's Google's flavor of Linux designed for netbooks (i.e. cheap, small, highly portable laptops) fitted with the Google Chrome browser. This is why I call it a NOS (read: No S) and crassly called shenanigans after a couple of beers last week at trivia. I've been called out by multiple people on this: it is, by definition, an OS. However, this is only because it's built on Linux. They're not really developing a new OS, just re-packaging Linux for a more mainstream audience and calling it their own (granted, with the disclosure that Linux is running under the hood). A part of me thinks it's cool that rather than re-inventing the wheel they're building on a great product that more people should be doing, but another part of me feels ripped off that they're getting all this free press from combining two old technologies.

To be fair, it's not a bad idea: building an OS that is tightly integrating with the Internet we've come to know and love. It's really quite incredible how far along the world has come as far as embracing the Internet in just the last 10 years. There was no YouTube or social media or even the idea of blogging as it stands today - it was almost the wild west of the Internet age. Things have come to the point now where a lot of average consumers don't do a whole lot on their computer that's not in their web browser, aside from maybe word processing, spreadsheets, or slide presentations. Meanwhile, Microsoft came out with XP, which was a solid and time appropriate OS, followed by Vista, which wasn't a bad OS but was plagued with development hitches and being heavy overall. This was ironic because people often complain that their computer are too slow as it is even despite getting newer and newer machines. Apple made incremental improvements to OS X, which were great but they've really been playing it safe for a long time now with OS X. No one has taken up the banner of an extremely minimalist OS. The reason that I've come to appreciate Chrome OS in the past week is that at work I've become accustomed to realizing what we really need in the software we're currently developing rather than all our long-term goals. I never short-change opportunities to make our long-term outlook better, but it's really important to not compromise getting done what needs to get done this year.

I believe that Chrome OS was born out of a fear that the trend of installing Android on netbooks would continue and give Google a black eye since Android is not intended for use in mobile devices bigger than the size of your average smartphone and is optimized for very different operations from a netbook. If Android gains steam in netbooks, they have to build Android as being good for phones and netbooks, or else speak out against their own platform for use in netbooks and make themselves look bad. So, in a way, creating Chrome OS makes a lot of sense for them. It's intended to have a thin UI and their full-featured Chrome browser, hopefully with improved security functionality (it's not terrible as is, but if it's going to be the main attraction then it could stand to be beefed up).

TechRadar has a good explanation of the announcement blog post and points out rightly that it is going to end up being placed as a competitor to Windows 7 even though it's not going to be scaled to meet the functions that Windows 7 is intended for since it's merely a front for a web browser. Apparently, it'll be available for developers later this year and shipped with netbooks in the latter half of next year. Rafe Needleman at CNet makes another great point about it: netbook users so far, on average, haven't been all that impressed with netbooks running Linux. This isn't a sleight at all to Linux on netbooks, that's just based on the sales figures of Linux netbooks versus XP ones. With Windows 7 RC1 weighing in as more performant than XP, it's going to be an uphill battle for Chrome OS once it comes out an Windows 7 is already established in the market.

If things weren't interesting enough already: the products under the Google Apps brand are now officially out of beta (including Gmail, Calendar, and Docs). So Chrome OS is trying to sell everyone on trusting web applications and is removing the beta tag from their other services to help promote that. It's smart, but I wouldn't short change Microsoft amidst all this. It's already well known that they're going to be beefing up Office in its forthcoming release to have collaborative features online that compete with Google Docs except for fully supporting all the Office formats in a richer way. There's also Gazelle, which aims to add significantly more security to the web browsing experience and could someday replace Internet Explorer.

All in all, I'd call Google Chrome OS a well-calculated experiment for Google. I respect their noble aims of speed, security, and simplicity, even if it isn't radically innovative. It is the next logical step in our acceptance of web applications since we now have smartphones with fully-realized web browsers, and so people with those phones are going to typically be more excited about web services than shrinkwrapped software. Whether or not they want this same experience from their netbook though or if they want what Windows 7 can provide remains to be seen.

Firefox Continues to Swallow Market Share

I'm really impressed by the beastly download numbers Firefox 3.5 has gotten weighing in at 5 million downloads in its first 24 hours (and is now at over 14 million downloads). This doesn't best the 8 million downloads for the release day of Firefox 3. I didn't know until reading that article that Firefox had been downloaded more than 500 million times last year, which is incredible. To top it off, Internet Explorer has lost 11.4% market share since March while Firefox 3.5 already claims 2.5%, which almost seems impossibly high to me except for the fact that it makes sense that 10%+ of Firefox users are huge fans anxious for upgrades. It may be a couple of months yet for the dust to settle on this upgrade an the IE upgrade to version 8 for us to see a more definitive trend though.

Meanwhile, we have improved performance and stability to look forward to in future releases of Firefox with the start of the Electrolysis project to investigate gains to be had from multiprocess browsing. In computer science, it feels like the solution to any performance problem is to throw more hardware at it or parallelize into multiple threads (5 cooks in a kitchen working on different parts of an entree will be much more efficient than one guy doing it all in serial). These improvements probably won't be ready until Firefox 4.0, at the earliest, but it will certainly bring it up to speed with one of the more innovative concepts that Google's Chrome browser brought to the table at its release.

DPRK Gets Cyber Frisky

Yesterday was a pretty eventful week in security. The biggest thing that happened was the crazy Distributed Denial of Service (DOS) attack staged last week against dozens of government and commercial sites in the US and South Korea, which North Korea is alleged to be behind. The 50,000 infected computers in the botnet actually had a program capable of wiping the machines clean to the point of being completely inoperable, though this functionality was not triggered (possibly to be triggered at a later date). That's pretty scary. To make matters worse, we can't actually prove that it was North Korea, so far. Given their lack of tech savvy, it's much more likely to have come from China given their recent track record. Maybe they were trying to incriminate North Korea, but what did they have to gain from these attacks? Was it a cover to steal information?

If that didn't scare you, Goldman Sachs was revealed to have been compromised last weekend by a Russian immigrant who stole top secret trading codes. Compromising a financial company like Sachs could unfairly game the stock and bonds market for ill gained profits. Amdist all the issues the financial markets have faced in the past couple of years, its no big surprise that this story didn't get too big last week. It shows that maybe these companies aren't as secure as we trust them to be and I hope that it'll encourage them to audit their current security measures (including Goldman Sachs).

In somewhat less scary news, Twitter has started suspending the accounts of users with the Koobface virus, which spreads itself through malicious tweets for a bogus URL that ultimately installs malware on the victim machine programmed to receive remote instructions. I'm definitely impressed with Twitter's aggressive measures to try to minimize the effects of this virus. I hope that they continue this trend, but I'd really like to seem them have their own URL shortening service built-in to the platform to filter out malicious links like these.

Now that you're good and scared, Techradar has an awesome roundup of tools that will fit on a flash drive to keep you safe while you're on-the-go. Go download them now!

The 7 Types of Best Buy Employees

This is the kind of Internet story that's always fun to read. Early last week, Gizmodo posted an article with a graphic that outlines the 7 types of Best Buy employees you'll find in any Best Buy store no matter where you are. It was pretty brutal but definitely funny as you've almost certainly met one of these people if you've ever been in a Best Buy, though narrowing all Best Buy workers to 7 types is definitely a tad harsh.

This article made its way in a lot of people's inboxes and RSS readers, and Best Buy could've easily ignored it as simply one blog's jab at their image. Instead, their CMO responded with the 1 type of Gizmodo blogger. I have to admit, it's pretty funny. Gizmodo accepted it in good humor in an attempt to spit in the face of the intent of the post, and they felt successful even though the feeling I'm getting from comments I'm reading is that Gizmodo got owned.

Why am I talking about this? Besides being a fun story, it's a great example of the right way to deal with a situation like this. Best Buy didn't make a big deal out of it, but a simple blog post dealt with it for just the audience that heard about it in the first place rather than the whole country via a mass media outlet. Plus, it wasn't a stodgy professional response, it showed that they actually had a soul. I was impressed. I'm still not going to shop at Best Buy because I absolutely adore Prime and hate the customer service I get at Best Buy (it's also not at a convenient location for me), but at least I have some more respect for them now.

Everything Else

I'm way over the time I allotted for this post (which happens every week so I don't know why I'm consistently surprised), but I do have some more articles to at least point you to for your own reading pleasure.

ASCAP is now going after people who embed YouTube videos of content protected by ASCAP in a slimy way to try to tell everyone how greedy they are about what they own. If they really want to mark their territory they should just walk into people homes and piss on their music collections.

The Boston Globe ran an article I enjoyed reading about why voicemail is dying. They're completely right, in my opinion: I hate getting voicemails because I don't have time to listen while at the office or it's not easy while to while walking home from the gym, but a text is much easier for me to process while I have headphones on.

Microsoft's XML rendering engine takes on deciding how it thinks the XML specification should work instead of how it does in rendering your XML. Aside from being totally contrary to the whole point of a standard, now that it's been done they can never undo this wrong. Ugh.

Twitter has been experimenting with ads on select profiles. I don't think this is the cash cow they need, but at least they've finally started trying things out.

Maximum PC has a wonderful Windows 7 upgrade guide including a bit of information I actually didn't know when asked the other week: each edition will include the 32-bit and 64-bit installations for both types of processors. For those who don't know what that means: you can use more than 4 GB of RAM with Windows 7 without getting a separate disk.

Rather than dropping the price of the PS3, it looks like Sony will be selling a bundle through Best Buy with arguably the two hottest games (Killzone 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4) for the standard $400 for 80 GB. Subtracting the price of the two games, this is about on par with was the PS2 cost at launch ($300), but they should really still drop the base price.

(Warning: shameless self-promotion) Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle 2 last week by about 15% to $300, which makes the gap between it and the DX more pronounced and makes it a much better deal. From playing with it hands-on, I have to say that it's a pretty slick, fun device. While I'm doing shameless promotion: Amazon Wireless also launched last week selling phones for Verizon and AT&T with the goal of bringing the tried and true Amazon customer experience to an audience that typically has a rough time buying phones.

Speaking of phones: Verizon and Sprint have committed to restricting all future phones they take on to having WiFi support. This is a great step forward to reducing consumer confusion in buying phones from them.

The Blackberry Tour launched today.

finally reading version 1.0! This is the best video player out there for watching any kind of content on any operating system.

The people working on the HTML 5 spec couldn't agree on a video codec, so the standard has dropped creating an open source video codec. This is unfortunate news, but at least the standard supports embedding video.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Taking Care of Your Computer

Keep Your PC Lean and Clean

A survey done of some of the guys who do tech support in Staples stores have turned up some interesting tips regarding routine maintenance that a lot of people seem to skip out on. The number one takeaway from that particular article is to keep your computer physically clean. Keeping your keyboard clean doesn't really correlate to computer performance, although it may help you type better if you use a small vacuum or pressured air, but more important are your internals. Desktop PCs can get lots of dust very fast, even faster than laptops, I'd say. With laptops, it's pretty easy to get a can or compressed air and just blow the dust out of the vents, but taking off your desktop PC to clean it out is definitely worth the trouble on even as infrequently as a bimonthly basis. Laptop users though have no excuse to not do it at least monthly - you will definitely seek a marked performance improvement.

The other tips are pretty standard stuff: keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and scan regularly (at least bi-weekly, I'd say), keep your OS up-to-date, defrag regularly (at least bi-monthly), clean out useless junk from your hard drive (at least bi-monthly), and backup the irreplaceable stuff (at least monthly), like music and photos and videos you've taken. Preventative maintenance really is key with extended the life of your computer just as living a healthy, balanced lifestyle is key to prolonging our own life. Certain mechanical failures can't be avoided, but you can definitely delay their arrival. My computer in college was over 4 years old by the time I graduated and still going strong (I only didn't keep it because I wanted a laptop for ease of portability).

Part of the problem is that people generally don't go through training before they start using a computer and develop bad habits, and so Makeuseof has 3 very basic tips that are pretty critical to the long-term success of a computer user. I can't stress enough how important it is to be able to type without closing watching your fingers in this day and age, and it's going to make your computer usage much more efficient. Nowadays, it's easier than ever with all the free software available online to help you learn and e-mail and IM to help you practice. The second tip is a biggie: be selective with your software. You're probably picky with the stuff you buy for your home, so why not be picky with what you install on your computer? You don't want something that's going to hog resources, and you certainly don't want to keep stuff around that you never use. You should audit your computer usage every few months and decide if there's crap on there you never use and stuff you wish you had. I'd roll into that tip that you need to arm yourself with good anti-virus and anti-spyware software to keep your computer clean. The last tip isn't as useless as it may sound: stay organized. Being organized in your home helps you find stuff faster to get done what you need to get done in your life and in your chores, and the same goes with your computer. I've become pretty proficient in getting a lot done on my computer in a short amount only because I've spent years refining how I organize things. It really does go a long way.

Firefox 3.5

Firefox is back with a bang in version 3.5. I've talked about it off and on for a few months and now it is finally in public release. I have it installed at work but not at home because not all my extensions are compatible with it yet, but it seems to be a very welcome upgrade. Ars Technica gives a pretty good, concise rundown of the new features, which includes privacy mode, UI improvements, performance tweaks, support for HTML 5 video embedding, and support for some neat API additions for developers (including a geolocation library). The best UI improvement, in my opinion, is improved crash recovery and session restoration: you can select what you care to restore now. If you had 40 tabs open before a crash but only need 20 tabs now, why waste time opening all those tabs? The biggest deal in this release are probably the improvements in the TraceMonkey Javascript rendering engine, which were definitely long overdue. It's incredible how common AJAX is nowadays, so improving that performance is going to really improve your browsing experience. The only feature in this release, it seems like, that wasn't catching up with other browsers was the added support for HTML 5 embedded video, which is still years out probably from being viable as an online format while everyone gets browsers that support it, but it's gotta start somewhere.

All-in-all, it's clearly not a major release, but definitely a welcome one. If you can't live without all your add-ons, you should wait a couple of weeks to upgrade. Otherwise, definitely jump on it.

Bing Adds Twitter Search, Loses Loyalty

The press has taken a surprising interest in Bing, but it's still struggling to gain market share against Google and is probably only doing as well as it is right now because of all the press coverage it has been getting. While its search results may not always best Google, its real biggest issue is getting the loyalty people seem to have to the Google brand. If the first thing you type is the Google URL when you need to search (in the case of the Pre, it's staring right at you when you enter in a search term from the home screen), it's hard to rewire yourself to think of Bing instead. I've actually been trying to use Bing more because I like that it gives you rollover previews of pages, but even my muscle memory is wired to use Google. In a focus group created by the Catalyst Group, people liked the results and visual layout offered by Bing, but weren't interested in switching because the results didn't seem to be any better than Google's and they were already using a lot of other Google services. Bing is definitely trying to build up other services to bring people in (like Travel and Maps), but it could really use a killer app to bring people into the Bing brand. Short of that, they're not going to be able to put a significant dent in Google's market share.

It is nice though that they now include some Twitter results. Right now they only include a few esteemed twitterers, but they intend to include all of Twitter. This may seem silly, but the power of searching social networking sites is that you get a pulse on what people are generally thinking at any given moment. What people are thinking may be stupid, but it is what it is and sometimes it happens to include actually interesting information.

Windows 7 Versions

Maximum PC has a nice article that accurately explains what's included in the various editions of Windows 7 to help you decide on which you need. I think the bright side is that Home Premium, which most new computers will include, genuinely includes all the stuff that the average person will care about. Professional feels more like it's for small businesses or users who are really afraid to cut the cord with XP, but I don't know why anyone would really need Ultimate, unless you often work in various languages. It included BitLocker encryption, but you can download TrueCrypt for free.

Augmented Reality

I think that the idea of augmented reality is really cool: it's basically a virtual layer over the world you see to provide additional information. This is nothing new for most gamers: if you've ever played a game that involved flying or a mech then you're familiar with a heads-up display that helps you identify enemies and friendlies and all that jazz. In the real world, it could help you orient yourself in a new place, and there's actually already an Android application that's soon to be released that gives a pretty good demonstration of its power. The applications aren't hard to see in video games with Project Natal and the Wii and just the fact that 3-d controllers seem to be all the rage now - with augmented reality the possibilities in that space are really endless.

Anyway, there's not a whole lot to say about it right now, but it's something to keep on your radar because I'm sure we'll see it again in the near future on other mobile platforms (i.e. please port Layar to webOS!).

The Short Stuff

As you can probably tell, this was a pretty uneventful news week, and so the remaining stories are pretty short to talk about.

Joost has given up on consumer-video and is now focusing on just partnering with cable and satellite providers to help them deliver online video services. I think this was definitely a smart move for them.

Steve Jobs is CEO of Apple again!

The founders of Engadget have started Gdgt, which is a pretty risky project from them that seeks to catalog all the gadgets out there and bring a slight social networking spin to the mix in creating an interactive gadget community. It's an interesting concept, and they explain it best.

Lifehacker has a fun article explaining how easy it is to crack WEP security on a wireless network. I learned all the gory details in college, but these are pretty nice crib notes.

PC World has some hands-on impressions of Moblin and they seem to be fans of it as a different kind of operating system: a platform specifically for the netbook market. Rather than being considered as a thin laptop OS it should probably be considered in genre as an offshoot of a mobile phone platform.

The webOS Mojo SDK has been leaked, and I haven't gotten a chance to play with it but I'm dying to devote some time to it.

If you're interested in what cell phone provider provides the best 3G service in your area, you'll really like this comparison. It looks like I picked the right provider in Seattle: Sprint.

Have a pleasant post-holiday hangover, everyone! I'll leave you with one of my best pictures from my weekend (click on it to enlarge):

This is one of my favorite shots from yesterday's trip to Dec... on Twitpic