We Fix Your Gadgets

FixGadgets is a computer service and support company located in Central New York. We offer support for computer problems and service for computer upgrades. We can be reached any time of the day at 631.680.7844 or fixgadgets@gmail.com

Friday, June 09, 2006

Should Microsoft make Vista 2 public?

There is a lot of buzz on the net right now over Windows Vista and it covers the spectrum (good, bad, and ugly). I wrote an article not to long ago about the Top 20 Worst features included in the most recent version of Vista, Beta 2. Now Microsoft has released Vista Beta 2 for the public's opinion of the latest revision to the ancient Microsoft operating system. If you're too scared to run the install for fear of a fatal error, more than enough video and screenshots of Vista are available on the Internet. The link to download Vista Public Beta 2 are:

Now don't get me wrong, I don't hate Microsoft or Vista but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement. I think that Microsoft has done a smart thing releasing Vista for trial to the public. It might backfire though if too many inexperienced users attempt to install the OS and fail. While technical problems can be solved by the small group of developers they pre-release Windows to, the larger problems such as interactivity, ease of use, and others are better suited for review by the very people who will be forced to use using Windows in the future.

Windows Vista Beta 2 is expected to be distributed to over 2 million users. High demand for the public download has ensued and Microsoft's server even as of today are still being pounded with requests for the Next Generation OS. But you might think twice about installing the newest release of Vista as one article from InformationWeek suggests. The article cites 5 things you should know before installing Beta 2 such as:

  1. You better have a DVD burner
  2. The install has a limited lifetime (it goes dead in 2007)
  3. You're stuck with Vista (there is no turning back to an older installation)
  4. You're stuck with Vista (you might not be able to upgrade to the full version when its finally released)
  5. "Gotcha" is Microsoft's new mantra (there are many known problems that you may not know)

If you're having trouble getting the download directly from Redmond Virginia, you can try to use the torrent that many people have setup for it. The torrent should allow the file to be distributed more easily than a conventional download (this would have been a smart move for Microsoft). If you are interested, the torrent for Vista Public Beta 2 can be found here.

In my opinion its great to get the public's opinion about new software but it is very dangerous for Microsoft to make this publicly available since there are likely to be many cases of inexperienced users trying to install it and destroying their current computer in the process.

I should note to anyone interested in trying this out that they should us an alternative unused computer to install Vista on. You should be experienced in formatting drives, installing and troubleshooting drivers, and installing operating systems. If any of this sounds difficult you might be better off waiting for the public release, if it ever comes out.

In the mean time, there is likely going to be lots of new videos and pictures being posted on the Internet to keep any interested satisfied.

Save some $$$, Intel is getting cheaper

In an effort to be more competitive, Intel has decided to drive down the price of chips they offer to consumers. This is a great feeling at a time when we are being squeezed at the pump by greedy petroleum companies.

Intel explains that because of improved higher-efficiency manufacturing they will be able to cut prices on older chips. The CPU giant recently finished construction on a fourth factory allowing them to more easily ramp up production of additional 65-nanometer Core architecture. This public statement is likely an effort by Intel to compete directly with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Recent news reports cited that AMD had surpassed Intel in retail store sales, a major victory for AMD who has been battling against the CPU giant for years. The Current Analysis report showed that 49.8 percent of PCs sold for a particular month contained AMD processors while Intel CPUs were present in only 48.5 percent. While AMD has surpassed Intel in number of units sold, they failed to generate more revenue because AMD usually sells chips for less than Intel. In fact, Intel sales accounted for 57.6 percent of the U.S. retail market revenue while AMD lagged behind at 40.1 percent.

Another thorn in Intel's side was a recent decision by Dell to cancel their exclusive CPU contract with Intel in favor of carrying chips from both Intel and AMD. Offering the versatility of either chip will likely cause a big boost in sales for Dell, whose customers have been requesting AMD chips for years.

A spokesperson from Intel commented:

"We have a more aggressive product and manufacturing ramp, so those
older Pentium products will move down faster. It's not like we're cutting prices
for the sake of cutting prices."

While no direct comment on pricing was made, Citigroup analyst Glen Yeund said that based on talks with Intel customers, he believed that Pentium price cuts could fall between 8 percent and 61 percent by July. The problem for major chip manufacturers like Intel and AMD is a growing inventory of old chips whose value are rapidly diminishing due to increases in chip speed and performance.

Additionally if the computing market goes, both companies will see huge losses attributed to inventory that won't sell. Cutting prices is an early effort by Intel to minimize loss and overcome difficulties with a potentially slowing economy.

Bluetooth 3.0 - The Next-Generation

I use Bluetooth every day to connect my headset to my phone and transfer files. Its a great technology and my only complaint about it is how slow it is (around 721 Kbps). A much faster version (thankfully) termed Bluetooth 3.0 is poised to solve the slow transfer speed by boosting it to around 480Mbps, a major increase. The increased will not only help file transfer but will be able to support high definition video conferencing. The additional speed is gained from ultra wideband technology (UWB).

But Bluetooth has always been a short range transfer technology and other technologies exist to transfer data at the same speed over further distances. So the question is, what is the need for Bluetooth at all? Competitors such as Wireless USB will give Bluetooth a run for its money since works over longer distances (greater than 30 feet).

When will we see Bluetooth 3.0? The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has been working with numerous developers to include the next-generation Bluetooth technology into products that will hit the market as early as 2007.

The real determining factor among the numerous transfer protocols that have been proposed is which ones get incorporated into more devices. Ultimately the stratified market of protocols should be simplified into one or two top contenders, we'll just have to wait and see who they are.

Iceman Outdoor PC - read your email from the comfort of your pool

Do you spend long days in your pool and can't bring yourself to get up and go inside to use your computer? Well computer manufacturer Visson has the perfect solution for you. The Iceman by Visson is an all-weather outdoor PC built for use poolside.

While the specs certainly leave something to be desired the ability to check your email or watch TV poolside will win you over in the end. The computer boasts the following features:
  • 1.5 GHz Via CPU
  • Supports up to 1GB of RAM
  • Digital TV receiver (optional)
  • Wireless LAN (optional)
  • MPEG-2 decoding

It is certainly powerful enough to handle most if not all of your computer needs poolside. Now all you need is a large outdoor theater system and you'll have one banging outdoor theater. Thanks to the guys over at Engadget for pointing out that a SuperScreen Outddor Theater System does exist.

What do you prefer? iPod or drinking

Times have changed: College students now prefer their iPod more than beer. This doesn't seem right but when I went to college only a handful of people had mp3 players.

A survey conducted by StudentMonitor shows that students favor their iPods over a nice ice cold brew. This is the first time in ten years that anything other than beer has topped the survey. So maybe it isn't the intense partying and drinking that is causing students to perform poorly in school but the fact that they listen to too much music on their iPod (I don't think you could find anyone who agrees with that argument, myself included).

So how did students rank beer and their iPod? The results show that the difference between the two were two percentage points. Hardly a significant difference between the two (the survey had a margin of error of 2.3 percent). But even if students don't hold their iPods more dearly than beer, they do reserve a special place for the portable music player. More importantly, the previous survey from last year had ranked the iPod as 20 percentage points lower than the current survey.

Some believe that part of the "explosion" of the iPod's popularity is due to its use as a learning instrument. I disagree with this mostly because the majority of students I know that use portable music players are not downloading education content, but rather listening to the latest tunes. I believe that the tremendous growth of the iPod among students is not based on its educational merit but the fact that it is a must have device.

At major universities you will be hard pressed to find many students that don't own some form of portable music player. The device is well suited for a student who is constantly on the move and having one allows you to interact with everyone else that has one. The educational podcasting may play a small role in the iPods adoption but it is no way explains the survey's results. This only goes to show how misunderstood today's youth really is.

How long will the iPod dominance last? Well I wouldn't sell my stock in Samuel Adams just yet because drinking beer is an American pastime and something that I think will never go out of style. What you can bet on is the fact that the iPod in its current form won't dominate for long because the next great invention is just around the corner. College students, in particular, are known to be "early adopters" and thus their actions might foreshadow are larger increase in public demand for the iPod. Either way, the signs are good for Apple that they have a product that everyone wants.

I wonder what results we'll see from next years survey?

Tune into what Pepsi has to say

What is Pepsi's innovative new advertising campaign? Getting everyone, including you, to plug their headphones into the same poster. I can just imagine what the poster would say after you plug your headphones in:
"You've now been infected, drink Pepsi or Die!"
Thankfully Pepsi is not going the viral marketing route this time. The poster is actually meant to encourage passers-by to listen to short song snippets (30 seconds). If you're in American the posters haven't made it there yet, but almost 100 of them have been deployed in Toronto and Vancouver by the Canadian advertising firm BBDO.

So what's the deal? The 30-second song snippets are intended to wet your appetite for the entire music track.

What's the catch? Once you're hooked, you supposed to go out and buy a bottle of Pepsi that contains a PIN number. This PIN is redeemable on Pepsi's website for that song you've been infected by as well as anything else music-related they can sell you.

The advertising campaign is working because Canadians are already plugging in to these creative posters. My only word of advice is, be careful what holes you stick your gadgets in, not all of them will be as friendly as Pepsi's.

miJam - toys for your lonely iPod

Been worried lately that your iPod hasn't been getting enough interaction with other gadgets?

Do you find yourself humming, drumming, or plain old rocking out when you listen to music on your iPod?

For the iPod its lonely at the top, being the worlds best portable music player can be thought and we all need some friends to lean on.

Well the creative minds at Blue Box have the perfect solution. The miJam series of accessories allow you to interact with whatever music you're listening to. How you ask? Well they have created three devices, a guitar, mixer, and drummer that interface with your iPod and give you creative freedom to rock out.

How does this amazing idea work? Simply. You plug the audio from the iPod into the miJam device and plug your headphones into the miJam. Abracadabra you're playing along with your music idols.

And that's not all. BlueBox is developing a Stage Mic peripheral that will allow you jump in on the vocals when you feel the urge. What I'd love to see is someone use the guitar and the microphone at the same time.

Do you think you'll be rocking out to your iTunes music any time soon? No price has been announced for these devices and I've got no clue whether anyone will actually buy them but I think its an interesting idea if nothing else.

More information on the miJam accessories can be found on iLounge.

The 100" DIY Home Theater Screen (be the envy of ... everyone)

The Home Theater industry has a new enemy, the $100 Do-It-Yourself 100" screen. Now you might be saying whose crazy enough to build a screen but if you are little crafty, you can build a movie quality screen at home for under $100. Who can argue with that?

Of course you will need some other parts besides the screen itself such as a projector and sound system but that doesn't matter right now.

The great folks at Projector Central have a new tutorial for every Do-It-Yourself-er who is eager enough to take on the challenge. The following is all you will need to make your very own Movie Screen:

Super-white seamless paper - $26.00
Wood for frame - $34.00
L brackets and screws - $8.50
Velveteen fabric (3 yrds) - $27.00
Elmer's Glue - $2.00

TOTAL: $98.50

You will also need a woodsaw, staple gun, fabric scissor, and a drill or Philips head screwdriver. There are only 7 steps and the screen is just as simple as a wood frame with black border and white screen. The wood frame allows the screen to be easily hung where you want it in your home theater.

In true DIY fashion they have pitted the screen against a Stewart Grayhawk (a top of the line screen) in a series of tests including color accuracy and contrast. The end result: a quick and easy to assemble screen that's cheap actually gives comparable performance.

I've got the $100 for the screen, I just need to find a $1000 for the projector and I'll have my home theater setup in no time.

For more information on the exact steps check out the details on Projector Central's site.

iTunes EULA does equal iHappy

Are you one of those people who just agrees to the End-User License Agreement (EULA) on all the software that you use?

Well I guess people from Norway aren't as click-happy as we are here in America and they actually decided to read the EULA included in iTunes.

What happened when they read the EULA? The fell asleep. They found something that didn't make them iHappy. Norwegians called the agreement "grossly unreasonable" because it required them to consent to English law while iTunes can change the rights to the downloaded music whenever they want. On top of this they disclaim all liability for possible damage that their software may cause. Now while the EULA should provide some level of protection to Apple from frivolous lawsuits I hardly think that they should be in no way liable for damages that might occur if they were Apple's fault.

Sadly enough, this is not just the case with Apple but is true for most EULAs that end-users like you and me click through every day without a second thought about it.

The Norwegian Consumer Council has singled out iTunes but is making plans to go after other downloading services offered in Norway. The council has mandated that Apple has until June 21st to voluntarily change the terms after which the Council will persue a lawsuit.

Just another piece of evidence to convince you that Norway's Consumer Council isn't joking around is this site detailing their case against iTunes.

Thanks to the hard workers at Engadget for pointing this story out.

Alienware's Superman-themed limited-edition Area-51 systems

I heard about this one from my friends over at Engadget. It seems that the demand or at least the supply for custom themed computers has increased. In addition to Dell's X-Men themed XPS machine, Alienware has crafted a new limited edition Superman themed laptop and desktop.

You better get these while there hot because in an effort to make these machines truly limited edition, Alienware has limited production to 350 latops and 250 desktops. The whole machine is inspired by the upcoming movie Superman Returns due in Theatres nationwide June 28th.

The desktop features a mural (it is truly a work of art) by comic artist Tommy Lee and at bare bones will cost you $1,899. But that is not where the excitement is at. The excitement comes from additional features like liquid cooling and 1TB of storage. Its too bad this bad boy doesn't come with X-ray vision or lasers but it will satisfy all of your gaming and computing needs.

The laptop sports a 17-inch screen, a Core Duo processor, and an understated look for the conservative Superman fan. The laptop is personally my favorite of the two although it might be a bit weird to carry around one with a Superman emblem on it. I would love the machine if I could get it in Blue without the emblem.

To help feed the demand on these special editions, you can track the number of systems sold on their website.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Typhoon: 8 CPU Monster Computer

It's now possible to check you email even faster than before thanks to the hard working individuals at the Tyan Corporation. In the ever advancing world of computers, a Taiwanese Company (Tyan Corp.) has pledged to ship a personal supercomputer that is powered by eight Xeon processors. And if you thought that 8 CPUs weren't enough, each one is a dual-core which means that it actually contains 2 processors per chip making this behemoth a sixteen core computer. To top this all off, the computer boasts a beefy 48GB of memory which means that the computer probably has a better memory that most of us.

The supercomputer is officially named Typhoon and the Tyan CEO is quoted as saying, "it'll blow you away"; Appropriate words from a man who is offering one beast of a machine. The system has four removable motherboards each which run 2 Xeon chips, 12GB of memory, and 1 hard drive.

Each motherboard is operated as a node and are run co-operatively using Windows or Linux clustering software. The yields good performance for scientific and other computationally heavy tasks. But they hope to broaden the application of this machine to beyond engineering and science.

preceding the Typhoon is the B5191, a toned down version with only 4 CPUs aimed at the cost conscious crowd. I guess it isn't as deserving of a great name as the Typhoon. Both models have eight USB and eight Gigabit Ethernet ports and on-board video cards with 16MB of dedicated memory each.

Don't grab your credit card yet because either model won't be out until the end of the summer and even then you have to shell out $10,000 for the high-end model. And if the price doesn't chew up all of your green, operating this machine 24/7 might. At 14000W total per box, you might need to purchase a substation and put it outside your office.

Google vs. Microsoft (or the other way around)

It seems that there has been a lot of press for both of the companies lately. Both seem to be developing strategies and releasing services to attack what the other does best; Microsoft with MSN and their ongoing battle to defeat google in the search game and Google with their latest release of software (Calendar, Writely, Spreadsheets) to compete with Office. Its gotten so bad lately that you can tune into any media format without hearing something about either one of these Mega-Corporations.

I wrote yesterday about the amazing wiz-bang new addition to Google's arsenal, Google Spreadsheets. It didn't take long after Google announced the release of this product to directly compete with Excel, did the executives at Microsoft start complaining. Google's service sports features such as automatic saving, keyboard shortcuts, and supports more than 200 formula functions. Perhaps the best feature of all is the ability for multiple users to simultaneously edit spreadsheets and chat.

Spreadsheet product manager, Jonathan Rochelle explains that Google is looking to help Excel users share more effectively.

What is Microsoft's response? "Thanks but no thanks", Microsoft spokesperson Heather Gillissen told reporters. She and the Redmond, Va corporation don't think that Excel users need the help. She added that many other vendors already offer the functionality that Google's service does and there is nothing new or great about it. Heather remarked that "Google's new spreadsheet product is just an imitation of functionality". What ever happened to the saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

I think Microsoft might do well to play nice until Google has all of its cards on the table. Badmouthing has never helped the success of any company or person, I'd like to see an example where it did. Take for example the Dixie Chicks' commentary on President Bush a year ago. They were publicly scroned by the news and fans for their dissing and hate remarks.

Google is at the forefront of a movement pushing web services to compete and defeat computer based applications and they've got a lot of people on their side, I'm one of them. We'll just have to wait and see how the next round in this title fight will turn out, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Google Launches Online Spreadsheet System

Lately, Google has been churning out new goodies faster than I can blog about it. New today (although massive speculation has been floating around for a while) is a Online Spreadsheet System appropriately named Google Spreadsheets. This product is so new that its still in the Lab and apparently only available in a limited test. You can however signup to receive an invitation when they decide to expand the service. Until you're fortunate enough to receive an invitation, you can view the many posts, pictures, and reviews of the service.

It seems that this is just another brick in Google's path to competing with Microsoft Office. Why not, Office generated $2.95 billion in sales and $2.09 billion in profit for Microsoft's third quarter alone.

Travel to these sites to read more about Google's newest product:

2016: A Peek at Our Internet Future

Many people are predicting how our world will change in the present and distant future. Among the speculation is the discussion of how the Internet will change and how that will affect our lives in the future. The Internet is a huge economic component of all developing and developed nations and as I write this and as you read this we are communicating over the Internet.

Michael Pinto, a member of the board of directors of the New York Software Industry Assocation (NYSIA), is one of many people that are betting on the prosperity of the Internet. Not to long ago, I wrote about some of the legal issues we are facing with the internet and how big telecommunication companies want to implement a tiered fee-based Internet. The article can be found here. Michael Pinto has a much more positive outlook on the development and growth of the Internet.

He believes that, "The biggest shift over the next ten years will be one of attitude, as our mindset of 'going online' is replaced by one of 'being online' ". Michael predicts that the Internet, or "Internet" as he refers to it, will become the essential glue that holds the world together. This huge growth not only depends on the development of the Internet but also on the growth of computer power. Improved computing power coupled with an every expanding Internet will find its way into almost every object we encounter and every task we accomplish.

One critical component to Michael's vision of the Internet future is the "Death of the DVD". This is hard to imagine since we have finally become accustom to DVDs and now when I go to the video store 90% of the movies they have are on DVD. He argues that packaged media formats in general will vanish and which will give rise to downloaded media. The concept of the downloadable media format is already at work today when you purchase ringtones, music, or software online. But Michael believes that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to downloadable media. For example, digital books (commonly referred to as eBooks) have not had major success in the past because of several factors. In the next decade or two with advances in monitor resolution we should be able to download and read any book without getting dizzy or blinding yourself.

The final part of Michael's vision is the birth of a still nascent media form, Interactive Art. He believes that all media will become interactive in an attempt to grab and hold the incredible short attention spans we all will have from living in the digital age. Ironically, as the technology grows, the spotlight with shift from technology to art, as Michael describes it. Once all of the ground work has been laid, it will become more about the art and less about how it is accomplished.

An important aspect to consider, which Michael does, is that this all hinges on how we and politicians decide to control the Internet. There has been a lot of news lately about countries installing firewalls to censor web content; China is one great example. As Michael puts it, "The nations that thrive in the 21st century will be those that recognize the necessity of innovation for national growth -- innovation that will only come from citizens who can communicate easily (and inexpensively) with the outside world".

For more information on internet predictions read Michael Pinto's article on PBS.org as well as these other great articles:

The Wall Socket PC (aka Jack PC)

jackpc.jpgNo this isn't some futuristic high tech. light switch, this is actually a computer that is housed in a wall socket and boasts some surprising features considering its size.

Now you might be worrying that it might need a power adapter, but no fear because this bad boy is powered entirely by Ethernet. Ethernet lines carry a miniscule 5 Watts of power which nothing in comparison to the beefy 500 Watt power supplies installed in many top of the line PCs.

The internals of the Jack PC consist of two layered circuit boards which contain 4 USB channels, audio in/out, and a VGA port. The CPU is an AMD RISC processor that has the same power as a 1.2 GHz x86 processor. Now its important to note that the Jack PC's main purpose is to connect to a server, which performs most of the processing. However, the computer does include Internet Explorer 6 to allow you to access web applications.

The Jack PC is a vast improvement over the old 3Com switch housed in a wall plate that allows you to convert one copper line into 4 ports at your desktop. While this PC isn't for the average joe, its might have application for business and schools who install many decentralized computers. The Jack PC would allow companies and educational institutions to install these machines around their buildings and maintain large servers for the devices to connect to. We'll just have to wait and see how people react to it.

The Jack PC will be officially released on June 14th 2006 at the IT Works Show by the UK company Jade Integration. I first read about this new PC at Gizmodo, another great gadget weblog.

The Ultimate Summer Gadget Guide

The writers at TechWeb have put together the "Ultimate Summer Gadget Guide" to help you buy the best gadgets for this summer. Because we can't always Jetset down to Fiji or some other exotic island, these gadgets might be the closest we get to transforming our backyard vacation.

The list starts off with an Outdoor Movie Night Projector from Dell (Model 5100MP) which combines stunning visual clarity and blindingly bright pictures (3,300 lumens). The projector can display a screen size larger than 24 diagonal feet turning the side of your house into a comfortable outdoor home theater.

You've all heard of the Roomba, well here is its' bastard step child, The Scooba. The Scooba will give you that well deserved break from mopping muddy floors. It can clean hardwood, linoleum, tile, and marble so as Ron Popeil might say, "Set it and forget it".

While still in development, I think this is the ultimate summer gadget for all of your sea-faring lads. Its a Bionic Dolphin Submersible Hydrofoil which if you're rich enough will allow you to dive to depths of 20 feet and reach speeds of up to 45 mph on the surface. Unfortunately, if you've got an extra $120,000 laying around, I think you might be better off taking a real vacation and probably should think about moving out of your parent's basement.

For more great must-have summer gadgets check out the entire article at TechWeb.

The Truth About Switching (from a PC to a Mac)

I'm sure you must know someone somewhere who has recently switched to a Mac and if you don't you might remember those Switching commercials from Apple not to long ago (below).

You can find even more Switch Ads as well as parodies on the Apple Switch Ad Campaign on YouTube. There have been many stories and articles written on switching from a PC to a Mac but I don't think anyone has described it as simply as Bill Westerman who posts about his PowerBook at Utilware.com. Bill switched to Mac several years ago from a PC and has been taking notes about his experience ever since. In this article, he writes about the truth of switching, all of the good and bad stuff included.

Bill noted that when you have a Mac, "People will help you for no reason". This is probably the best thing about owning a Mac, the community is very tight knit and everyone is willing to lend a hand. Now the only problem you might have is finding someone else who owns a Mac. If you don't know anyone who owns a Mac then travel down to your local Apple Store and grab a stool at the Genius Bar for some help.

Another comment from Bill on switching was, "You'll get more things done". This is something you should expect from a next-generation laptop and operating system that allow you to focus on your work and not solving computer problems.

Some of the valid issues that Bill raises include, "You'll spend more money than with Windows", and "You'll play pretty well on a Windows network". While a Mac will cost more upfront, you will get a well made machine that lasts longer and will depreciate much slower than a PC. Networking has been an issue since day one with different platforms but Apple has done a lot to make cross-platform communication between Macs and PCs easier than it has ever been. And if you're still having trouble, you can always find the neighborhood Mac owner who can help you out.

As a computer technician I've had to work with both PCs and Macs but my personal computer is a Mac and I've had it longer than I've had any PC.

Computer Problems? Hire Steve Ballmer.

No this isn't advertising for Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer. Apparently the 13th wealthiest man in the world (worth over 18 billion) is not to rich to help you fix your computer problems. This story comes from another Microsoft executive who told the press about Ballmer's personal experience with Spyware.

Apparently CEO Ballmer was at a friend's wedding reception when the bride's father complained that his PC wasn't working and asked Steve if he would mind taking a look at it. At this point I would think Ballmer would pass him off and move on to the next topic of conversation but that's where I'd be wrong. Ballmer spent almost two days trying to clean the PC, removing worms, viruses, spyware, malware, and severe fragmentation. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Ballmer was unable to fix the computer.

I wonder how Microsoft thinks we should maintain computer running Windows when even the CEO of their corporation can't do it. But this isn't where the story ends. Steve Ballmer lugged the computer back to Microsoft HQ and assembled a team of top engineers to fix it. The engineers spent days working on the machine and found that it was infected with over 100 pieces of malware, several of which couldn't be removed.

Thankfully the Corporate Machine that is Microsoft was able some potentially bad PR and spin it into a business venture. Another Microsoft executive commented that, "This really opened our eyes to what goes on in the real world." Apparently Microsoft executives and employees don't live in the real world. So last week, Microsoft launched Windows Live OneCare, an "all-in-one, automatic, and self-updating PC care service designed to help consumers more easily protect and maintain their PCs". Presently, OneCare is only available in the US and costs $50 annually. Not to worry because I'm sure OneCare will be released in other countries as the system develops.

Microsoft has some huge cajones to charge users an annual service fee to fix problems in its operating system that shouldn't be there in the first place. Thankfully, competition is still somewhat alive in our economy and Symantec/Norton and McAfee will be releasing comparable programs to OneCare shortly.

For more information on Windows Live OneCare, check out Google News.

New Special Edition U2 iPod

Latest on the train of Apple releases is a revision to the special edition U2 iPod. The U2 iPod is special for many reasons including a jet black finish, prominent red Apple click wheel, laser inscribed signatures of all four band members on the back, and exclusive bonus material only available to people who purchase the special edition iPod.

The 30GB U2 iPod is a customized version of the low end iPod video and boasts up to 7,500 songs and 75 hours of video. The screen is a 2.5 inch 320 x 240-pixel QVGA color display, which gives you the ultimate music experience - sight and sound. The battery boasts a great 14 hours lifetime between charges, with an 80% recharge taking only 2 hours (full charge takes 4 hours).

So what is this special edition iPod going to set you back? $329 plus tax and shipping. If you're lucky enough to be a student, you can snatch the U2 iPod up for $299, the same price as the standard edition 30GB iPod.

So stop reading about it, get out, and go get one. More information on the special edition U2 iPod can be found here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Someone (else) Is Reading Your Email

While we already know that we are being watched by Big Brother another area of our work life is coming under surveillance by our employers, e-mail. If you work at a large company, a new study shows that there is a 1 in 3 chance that your e-mails are being read. This study surveyed big companies in the US and Britain about how they monitor their employees actions.

More than a third of the companies surveyed hire employees to read and analyze outbound e-mail as they seek to guard against legal, financial or regulatory risk. Many of the companies (over a third) also said their business was hurt by the exposure of sensitive or embarrassing information in the past 12 months.

Garet Steele, chief executive of Proofpoint, which conducted the study along with Forrester Research said that "What folks are concerned about is confidential or sensitive information that is going out."

The biggest concern for these companies is protecting the financial privacy and identity of customers. The businesses ranked monitoring for inappropriate content and attachments as less important. So you don't have to worry as much unless you divulging confidential information.

Steele also mentioned that more and more companies are employing staff to read outgoing e-mails of workers who typically have no idea their correspondence is being monitored. This is a big privacy issue and the law currently is on the side of big businesses. Anything you say or do on a business computer can be tracked and monitored legally without your consent.

Another finding of the study showed that in the U.S., nearly one in three companies have fired an employee for violating e-mail policies in the past 12 months and estimated that about 20 percent of outgoing e-mails contain content that pose a legal, financial, or regulatory risk.

What are the practices of the company you work for?
Do you think such monitoring is right and should be legal?
Where do we draw the line for the privacy of the worker?

The original article was posted by Wired News.

AppleBerry might be the next big thing

Apple Computer is hot right now. The amazing Mac OS X coupled with the booming iPod has hurdled Apple in to the speculation forefront. There are many people, myself included, waiting to see what Apple releases next.

There has been speculation on the internet and in print about a partnership in the works between Apple Computer Inc. and Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. RIM is the popular manufacturer of the Blackberry, a device that many businessmen use to check their email when they're out of the office. An analyst with Canaccord Capital Inc., who accurately predicted a partnership between RIM and Intel Corp., speculated on the idea of an "AppleBerry" partnership.

The deal is big for both sides because RIM was to maintain a firm foohold in the consumer market and Apple lacks a presence in the wireless sector. The result of such a cooperative union could be an Apple branded cellphone that harnesses RIMS's wireless technology or a iTunes embedded BlackBerry, or both.

Peter Misek, the analyst at Canaccord Capital Inc. notes that several senior executives at Intel have recommended that Apple work with RIM. The one difficulty of a joint venture is that both RIM and Apple have different strong personalities which may hinder a partnership.

Of course both Apple Computer Inc. and RIM Ltd. declined to comment on the speculation.

What do you think of an "AppleBerry"?
Are businessmen writing email in the market for music?
Could such a partnership destroy any hope of a revived Newton?

The original article was posted at the globeandmail.com.

20 Things You Won't Like About Windows Vista

Windows Vista, the next major update to the Windows operating system (OS), has been delayed yet again but this is no suprise. What does this mean? We'll wait even longer for the Next-Generation OS from Microsoft. The current projection sets the Windows Vista release for January 2007.

Even though Microsoft isn't even close to releasing the OS for retail, they have been gracious enough to give the Press full access to the latest builds. This is their attempt to keep you salivating about a product that should have been released 3 years ago and for many its working. For me, well my mouth is about as wet as the Sahara over it and so I've compiled the Top 20 Things You Won't Like About Vista.

Why is Vista supposed to be a Next-Generation OS?
Microsoft first announced Vista to compete with the truly Next-Generation Mac OS X. Apple has done a great job at innovating the traditional OS by including features that allow us to do our work more easily and efficiently. This has all happened while Microsoft has been living in the Dark Ages with XP. Ironically enough I say this while typing at a PC running Windows XP. XP was Microsofts first stab at innovation which fell short due to technical glitches and a slow adoption rate.

While dominating the OS market sounds like a good thing, it has hindered Microsofts ability to include innovative features in their OSes. While Apple can innovate, Microsoft is left having worry about compatability with old computers running old software. This makes compatability a major focus of Vista development.

Another thorn in Vista is that the majority of systems running Windows are from large corporations and institutions which means that Information Technology (IT) management is a huge concern. With the latest release of Vista, Beta 2, Microsoft has upped the ante by favoring security and IT control over end-user productivity.

The dominance of security in Vista is so bad that many testers have compared their experience "to that of a rat caught in a maze". This is very troublesome for small business and home users who will be caught in a "blizzard of protect-you-from-yourself password-entry and 'Continue' boxes" that are required in the control panel. Additionally, nerwoking settings are scattered over multiple locations. Add us this plus all of the other complaints people have lodged about Vista and compiling a Top 20 Worst features list isn't that hard at all.

This isn't to say that everything is bad with Vista. In fact, they have gone a long way to update the graphics subsystem, improve security, and develop new features. But, discussing the Top 20 Best features of Vista is another article entirely.

The List ... Finally!
20. Minimum video card requirements make my new laptop outdated.
In trying to push the envelope, Microsoft has included a lot of Mac OS X like visual effects which make the minimum requirements for your video card on Vista excessive. The current minimum memory is 128MB to run all of the visual elements in Vista. Well this requirement makes the laptop I just purchased already outdated by Vista's standards.

19. Heavy video requirements will cause businesses problems.
Because most current PCs wont have a strong enough video card for Aero, the new graphics engine in Vista, they will be forced to run in Vista Basic. IT managers will now have to worry about which PCs can run Aero and which can't. Adding insult to injury, it seems from initial reports that Vista Basic is more main system random access memory (RAM) hungry than Aero or even XP in older machines. The bottom line is that Vista is going to run incredibly slow if you don't have a 128MB video card so if you want to use it you're going to have to shell out more cash.

18. F%@#ing user account controls.
Their concept was to simplify how you setup the users on your system. The result is pain in my a$$. For years, Windows been downright difficult to use on a daily basis unless you log-in as the administrator or setup complicated permissions on a per-user basis. In the old systems, administrator was a level that any user could be promoted to but in Vista, the administrator group is not the same as the administrator. In addition to this, Vista requires authentication for almost every control panel as well as the registry and program files folder. All of these changes are going to totally confuse any Windows user, the experience and unexperience alike.

17. Secure Desktop
You have to experience this to understand how horrible it is. This is part of Microsoft's User Accounts Control and occurs when you do something the OS deems dangerous. The worst part about it is that when it occurs, the popup is modal and locks Windows until you answer the prompt.

16. How come I can access the Administrator account?
I guess Microsoft wants to force us to use the User Access Controls because I could not find a way to access the Administrator account like you can in previous versions of Windows. I personally belive that separating the administrator class with the administrator account is a huge mistake on Microsofts part.

15. Vista makes my networking life more difficult.
Fixing people's computers all day long I am constantly working on networking problems and the easiest way to answer so critical questions is by looking at the network connection properties. In Vista, accessing those properties are no longer easy or straightforward. Another aim of Vista was to simplify networking, but this didn't happen (maybe it will in the next version of Windows).

14. Windows Peer Networking
Working in a large office, it is often easier to share files between co-workers than sending them back and forth. It seems though that Microsoft has changed some of the good peer networking options from XP and added more bad ones. The result: Peer networking is not as easy as it should be with a Next-Generation OS.

13. Network settings takes one step forward and two giant steps backward.
I think the new slogan for Vista should be, "Vista, making things hard to find!" because thats what they have accomplished by making me click seven times to open the network connection properties. The design of Vista has been to make settings harder to access by the basic user so that they can't change them. It might work better if the OS ran well enough that the user didn't have to change the settings.

12. Applets, Wizards, and Dialogs Oh My!
I think Microsoft shot itself in the foot this time. They want to make setting up things in Vista easier. Their solution: Include an ungodly amount of wizards and widgets. The result: The user has to spend more time finding the right wizard than solving the problem.

11. Display setting USED to be straightforward.
For no apparent reason Microsoft has decided to change the easy to use Display settings. Instead of the easily accesible and navigated tabbed window has been changed into categories of settings that are not intuitive.

10. Say Goodbye to File, Edit, View, etc.
Intelligent graphical user interface (GUI) design is critical in a great OS. Well Microsoft hired some downright awful GUI designers who decided to kill off a primary interface structure that has been in use for over 20 years. On top of this, almost every program known to man makes excessive use of some type of a menu bar. But new with Vista is an OS without an menu bar. So officially say goodbye to your File, Edit, View and other favorite menus. Now I should tell you that you can re-enable the Menu Bar through a series of property dialogs, it just seems stupid to kill this basic feature that EVERY operating system includes. I guess this is what makes Vista unique.

9. Windows Defender is buggy.
Beta versions of any software is likely to have bugs but the troubling thing is that when Defender does have a problem it does so silently which has prevented it from running the scheduled scans setup for 2 a.m.

8. Problems need solutions.
Another 'new' feature of Vista is the Problem Reports and Solutions utility which logs problems with drivers and software and then tries to help you solve them. The score is 0/20. With twenty problems encountered, the solution utility has helped none of them. This should be improved by the time Vista ships but I'm thinking they should change the name to Problem Reports utility and drop the solutions since its not keeping up its end of the bargain.

7. Where did all the Sidebar Gadgets go?
The Sidebar is akin to the Dock in Mac OS X, a great idea to help improve productivity and the bottom line. The problem is that while there are over 2000 Dashboard widgets for OS X, there are only 21 for Vista. Since they have been introduced on a handful (3-4) have been developed by people outside of Microsoft. For Sidebar to be very useful, Microsoft needs to get people to make more gadgets.

6. Media Center falls flat.
Many people have had problems with getting Vista's Media Center displaying TV. While the software was easily able to setup the TV hardware, it was unable to display the TV which is a problem for just about everyone. What's a media center without media?

5. Bad assumption #93: Start Menu
In yet another bad move by Microsoft, the Start Menu in Vista has become intelligent and knows whats best for you when it comes to shutting down and logging off. While the sleep and lock mode are displayed using large buttons, useful functions like shutdown, restart, log off get shuffled off into a small menu. As it turns out, simplifying these options has made it much more difficuly and annoying.

4. Long installation time.
I could do a days work in the time it takes Vista to install. No wait I can't because my computer is busy installing Vista. The one benefit is that all of the information the installer needs from you is taken at the beginning not middle or end of the install so you don't have to stand and watch 1% change to 2%.

3. Too many options!
In the never-ending battle to be flexible, Vista comes in five flavors: Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate. On top of this, Tablet PC functionality is available in all but the Home Basic version of Vista. Media Center functionality is available in the Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Vista. If that wasn't enough, each version of Vista contains different combinations of the new features in Vista. For instance the Home Basic edition will not have Aero, the new graphics engine. Good luck buying the right version!

2. Money, money, money ...
This all comes down to price. How much blood money will we have to fork over to get Vista. Recent estimates put the Vista Ultimate edition at somewhere around $329 to $349. We'll have to wait until the release gets closer to have a better estimate on how much Vista in all of its flavors will cost. The other interesting aspect of this is the Vista Start program that is designed for emerging home-computer markets. The idea is that you buy a computer with Vista for $200 to $300 and purchase usage cards that allow you to use the machine for a predetermined amount of time. After you bought a specific amount of these cards, you own the machine.

1. Vista is a photocopy.
What I mean is that when you make a photocopy of something there is always a loss of quality. In essence, Vista copies many of the things that Mac OS X has offered for years. While there is no problem with copying these features, it is important to recognize that they aren't the original. While Microsoft has the opportunity to take what Apple and other OS manufacturers have done well and make them great; The result thus far is not the case.

So thats the Top 20 Worst features/aspects of Vista as I see them. Let me know what you think of the latest release from Microsoft and what you hope to see in the coming months.

I hope that many of these things will be cleared up when Vista finallly is released. Either way, I will be watching the development closely and will be reporting back to you as they occur. So stay tuned for more on the upcoming release of the next-generation Windows Vista and more.