Category Archives: Computer

Where are Personal Computers Headed?

Every technology pundit in the world has an opinion on where personal computers are headed. They use words like cloud and social to describe our online activity, an increasing amount of cores when asked about processors, and the word touch is thrown around more and more. All this aside, where are personal computers headed?

It has been decades since the first PC was made available to consumers at a reasonable price. The personal computer took off while it was barely able to handle any real heavy lifting, functioning as little more than a giant calculator that allowed programmers to develop simple applications to perform small tasks. Back then, you would have been labeled a dreamer if you proclaimed that these machines would some day become the cornerstone of our business and personal lives it is today.

Now, you’ve got a computer on your desk, in your pocket, and even integrated in to your car. Some writing pens even contain powerful computers that record what you write and perform tasks that the original PCs would have never been able to tackle without a significant amount of time. The very term “personal computers” has evolved to mean a lot more than a box that plugs in to the wall and displays information on a monitor.

The two most recent major trends in this field are netbooks and tablet computers. While netbooks and tablet computers enjoy a considerable amount of attention for their small footprint and low-power operation, the real long-term story may lie in how the web has adapted to these technologies. Cloud storage, computing, and services have replaced many operations previously restricted to stand-alone applications. Services such as Google Docs have given users the ability to create and collaborate without the need of programs like Microsoft Office or even Open Office. Where there is still considerable ground to cover before stand-alone applications could ever be considered “dead”, the idea of letting the cloud do the bulk of the storage and processing has enabled users to get more done with a less powerful system than ever before.

Google, Amazon, and Apple have all thrown their hat in the cloud music services arena by developing their own cloud storage and player solutions. These services eliminate the need for the user to have a large hard drive or constantly sync their collection to various devices. You can access and play the same giant collection of music from your iPhone or netbook as you could you home desktop computer with terabytes of storage capacity.

Gaming would appear to be heading in a more web-based direction as well. Services such as OnLive are still in their infancy, though the incentive for developers to take their product out of the hands of consumers and in to a more controlled environment is certainly present. While this transition may be difficult to grasp in the short-term, years down the road the potential for cloud-based gaming may become more clear.

So, as you look to the future of personal computing, it may not be about how many terabytes a drive can hold, or how many cores your processor has, but how connected you are to the web.

Why a Microsoft Branded PC Would Be a Good Thing

Microsoft, though best known for the Windows operating system, is no stranger to the world of hardware. Their line of peripherals are top sellers and generally well received by users, the Xbox is on top of the HD game console market, and other various hardware projects have done generally well. They have not, however, entered in to the market as a PC OEM. Here are a few reasons why I believe a Microsoft branded PC would be a good thing:

Consistency
When you consider the various points made in the ongoing Apple vs. PC debate, one of the biggest arguments against Microsoft’s platform is the broad range of hardware and occasional incompatibilities associated with the incredibly wide range of drivers and standards that go in to building hardware for the Windows platform. Because Microsoft can’t possibly account for every variable manufacturers present, a single update can have a very negative impact on the end user until the OEM can revise their drivers. It’s easy to blame Microsoft for this, but this issue is often a two-way failure.

Optimization
If Microsoft knows exactly what they have to work with in terms of specifications and power, they can build an OS around this. In the case of Apple, their operating system (OS X) is optimized for a predictable set of hardware giving them the ability to script how the software interacts with the physical machine in a more efficient way. This is why a video card with 256 MB of RAM appears to perform better than the equivalent on a Windows machine in many cases. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get better performance with more powerful hardware on a Windows PC.

Data Footprint
Currently, Windows has a reputation for being very large and cumbersome. One major reason for this is a need for backwards compatibility not only for software created for previous versions, but also older hardware. When you consider how many hundreds of brands of products Microsoft currently has to consider when designing their software, it’s amazing the operating system doesn’t take up more space that it currently does. A lot of this was improved with the transition from Windows Vista to Windows 7, which broke much of the ancient and obsolete compatibility in favor of a more streamlined user experience.

There are several very important reasons that Microsoft will likely never actually create their own line of PCs. For one, it would be a slap in the face of their OEMs which rely on Windows to run their hardware. By competing with their biggest customers, they run the risk of losing a major part of their overall income as they look for other options. We saw this with netbooks when they were first coming out. Because Windows Vista was too cumbersome to operate on the underpowered netbooks of the time, manufacturers like HP and Dell looked to lighter and thinner Linux-based operating systems to fulfill their customer’s needs. Though this effort didn’t take off and dominate the market place, it (in addition to backlash from other PC platforms) was enough to push Microsoft to continue to support XP for an extended period of time.

Are Mobile Operating Systems the Future for Desktop Computing?

With the incredible strides being made in the mobile world, one can’t help but to ask whether or not these trimmed-down operating systems may be heading in a direction that could replace what we currently know as a desktop OS. For example, the debate over whether or not Android would make a good netbook OS has been going on since the first iteration of the mobile platform, and what we’ve seen of Apple’s OS X Lion has given us clear signs that they are borrowing greatly from the iOS user interface. With this in mind, are mobile operating systems the future for desktop computing?

It could be argued that one day, possibly in the not so distant future, mobile devices may actually be the form factor of choice for our everyday computing. You could come home and plug your phone in to a dock that links to a larger screen, keyboard, and other input devices. In the case of the Motorola Atrix 4G, your phone can already be plugged in to a laptop body to create a more complete desktop experience. Current limitations for this application include a lacking ability to install full desktop programs. This limitation aside, you are able to run a full instance of Firefox which allows you to handle pretty much everything you would expect through the browser on a larger Windows or OS X system.

There is a possibility, as different platforms continue to merge and become increasingly interconnected, that we may see a more hybrid form of operating system come together. An OS that can be installed completely and seamlessly between different form factors may offer a solution that is best for both worlds. The problem that faced the tablet industry in years prior stemmed from attempting to put a bulky OS with programs intended for a specific platform on a device that really wasn’t supported by the developers. With a hybrid OS, designed specifically with this functionality in mind, you may have a solution that is both more attractive to developers and OEMs.

How to Make an Unboxing More Interesting

The trend of unboxing popular tech on camera has been around for years. While many would claim the origins of this form of gadget porn come from the much-anticipated PS3 release, videos and/or pictures of desirable tech products being taken out of the box for the first time may well be as old as the camera itself.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these videos are frankly rather boring. A narrator points the camera at a box and opens it, saying pretty much the same thing everyone else that has unboxed the same thing says before them. Still, these videos are extremely popular, and that begs the question of how to make an unboxing more interesting.

Throw Out Practical Applications
Yes, we all know what the gadget is, and we don’t need a narrator to tell us what it looks like as we watch it being unboxed before our eyes. What users could find interesting are details about the practical applications of said gadget. If you’re unboxing a computer, explain what you intend to do with it and how this particular purchase would help you accomplish this. A look at the specs, instead of commenting on it being pretty, would be interesting as well.

Don’t Dwell on Packaging
It’s a box, made out of cardboard. Yes, it may have an interesting tab or padding, but people are tuning in to see the item itself and spending most of your time on the packaging and making the device an afterthought isn’t going to be interesting in the long run.

Personality
It would be foolish of me to say that I do the best unboxing videos, however, personality plays a big role in how your unboxing is received by the audience. If you are monotone, and generally unenthusiastic about what you’re doing, your audience will reflect that lack of passion when it comes time to hit the subscribe button or leave a comment. Offer more than just the typical gadget porn. Give them something to either laugh at or think about throughout the course of the video.

Extras
You might score extra points by unboxing more than just one thing in a single video. If you’re opening a phone or mp3 player, grab a case to go along with it and demonstrate how that particular case fits on the product. This will kill two birds with one stone, and instantly make your video more useful than one that just focuses on the same item every other tech vlog is fixated on.

Mac Malware on the Rise

Newsflash: your Apple machine actually can become infected. Wait, what? You didn’t already know that? Seriously? I’ve been telling you for years that it’s possible. Other writers have attempted to educate you. Your Mac is not a steel wall against malware, people. It’s always been possible for an Apple computer to be infested with some type of malware – it just hasn’t happened very often.

Photo credit to Precise Security.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the reasons why we haven’t seen much malware aimed at the Mac. Apple lovers will of course tell you that it’s nearly impossible for their precious machines to fall prey to hackers and script kiddies. Security experts will teach you that the reason is as simple as a popularity contest. Until recently, Microsoft computers were much more prevalent. It didn’t pay to expend time and energy writing malicious code for a Mac. Windows was everywhere – malware was written for the masses.

Many of us have said repeatedly that as Apple gained in popularity among consumers, so would malware written specifically for the operating system. While it still obviously isn’t as much of an issue as it is on the Microsoft platform… it IS out there, and it is growing. A quick glance through the Apple forums will show you several new cases every day of people begging for help removing the latest threat: a Rogue software known as “Mac Defender.”

Apple fanboys and security researchers are going to argue for weeks. Many will tell you that you still have nothing to worry about and you don’t need to protect your Mac with any type of anti-malware/virus/spam software. They’ll try to convince you to continue feeling all warm and fuzzy. You’re supposed to keep believing that your machine isn’t susceptible unless you use it in a stupid way. After all, smart computer users could never get infected, right?

I’m here to tell you that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Weigh your options and take a good look at the possibility that something could happen. Isn’t your information worth protecting? Resign yourself to the fact that malware is indeed “out there” which could infect your Mac and educate yourself as to how to stay safe.

Is Internet Addiction Real?

A few hours ago, Duodave posted an an interesting discussion on our LockerGnome Q&A site. He wonders if online addictions are real or something made up by professionals. I’m here to tell you that Internet addiction is very real. It can cause your health, relationships and work performance to deteriorate if you don’t realize you have a problem and work to overcome it.

An Internet (or Facebook!) addiction becomes evident when you begin to neglect the people and things in life which demand your attention. You spend much less time with your family. Work project may go undone or be turned in late. Sleep deprivation becomes the norm. Activities which used to give you pleasure are dumped in favor of staring at the computer screen longer.

For some people, losing themselves in online forums, blogs and social networks is a way to escape harsh circumstances in life. Does this sound familiar? It’s the same reason that many turn to drugs and alcohol. Life can be difficult to deal with sometimes, eh? Unfortunately, there are those who cannot find a way to cope. Instead, they find ways to mask the pain or anger. Internet addictions are much cheaper than using illegal substances or drinking yourself into a stupor. The worst part is that these people don’t realize that an addiction of this sort is just as destructive.

Just like substance abuse, addiction to the computer can be difficult to overcome. Users don’t want to leave the “safety” of their online identity. They may be reluctant to even admit they have a problem or not know what to do to fix it. These people don’t have to throw their computers out of a window, they simply need to learn how to balance their Internet usage with their physical life.

The first thing they will need to do is to figure out the underlying cause. What is going on around them that drove them to bury themselves in the virtual world? There needs to be a solid support network – don’t criticize or blame them. Offer to help… figure out other outlets for their stress, sadness or anger. Assist them in finding alternative solutions. Give them guidelines to use while cutting back on time spent online – even if they are an adult. They will need some type of structured plan in order to be successful without having to give up their social life on the web completely.

I am by no means a doctor or therapist. I am just some dude who happens to work and play online. However, I am very careful to balance all of that with other activities. I know all too well how easy it is to become caught up in what’s going on behind my computer screen. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve lost track of time when I’ve come across something interesting and then had to pull myself away. The key is balance, my friends. Moderate yourself just as you would with anything that could be harmful to your health and well-being.

How to Compete With the iPad

The tablet market is heating up, and it seems every day a new device is announced that has the potential to unseat the iPad. Many of them (ARCHOS, for example) boast qualities such as a simple user interface, “better” specs, freedom from the tight grip of Apple’s control, and a seemingly-endless amount of extras that make them better than the iPad. Unfortunately, they tend to lack key ingredients that would make a huge difference in their performance in the market. I’m a firm believer that real competition would be a good thing for consumers and technology in general.

There are tablets currently being sold that have a sizable amount of the market share, and in that sense they are providing competition to Apple. The problem is that there isn’t a tablet out there right now that can realistically unseat Apple from its position on top. There are some key points that tablets need to address in order to compete with the iPad.

For some reason, tablets made by manufacturers that have bragged for years that their products beat Apple’s premium prices are not only more expensive, but alarmingly so. Only recently have manufactures started to produce tablet computers at a competitive price. If you’re going to compete with the iPad, you need to set a competitive price.

There is nothing in this world more annoying than buying an app and finding out it only works on certain devices on the platform. Even though you meet every spec requirement the app has, it just doesn’t run on every device using the same OS. The tablet market, especially where Android is concerned, is still in its infancy. Google has taken in the reigns of their Android OS and taken steps to control how its used with tablets. This is how Apple is doing it, and by following their lead, Google may be able to come up with something that really competes with the iPad.

The argument of which OS has the most or best apps has been made more than a handful of times. Simply put, the app market on competing platforms is thinner and younger than on iOS. Because of this, other tablets have a hard time convincing users that they have the best experience to offer consumers. There are some clear advantages to a more open development system as seen in Android and others. The downside, however, is a lack of overall quality control. Users may purchase a bad app and have their overall experience with their device negatively impacted because of it. That isn’t to say that every app made for iOS is superior; some of them are still quite bad.

Competition in tablet computer market would be a very good thing for everyone that has ever wanted or needed one of these devices. It will drive innovation, potentially reduce prices, and allow consumers a real choice between two or more solid options.

What Makes a Great Computer Accessory?

The world of tech is filled with gadgets, gizmos, and accessories that are intended to fulfill needs. Computer accessories include input devices, USB-powered gadgets, and anything else you might use with or around your computer. In order to be considered a great computer accessory, it should meet one or more of these qualities:

Does it Make Life Easier?
Does the gadget, gizmo, or accessory provide a functional solution to a problem? Does it make an otherwise difficult or inconvenient task easier? Some accessories appear to serve a useful purpose, but after purchasing them you can be left with something that either doesn’t do the job you need it to do well enough, or it does something that you really didn’t need. A good accessory improves a situation, a great one does so seamlessly.

One example of this in action is the MagicWand. It connects an Apple Wireless Keyboard to an Apple Magic Trackpad to form an all-in-one interface device.

Is it Aesthetically Pleasing?
No one wants to look at an ugly piece of hardware on their desk. Distracting appearance and cheap construction can really impact a user’s overall experience. Aesthetics are one quality that can be judged very differently between multiple individuals, but this is where designers have to cater to the demand of the highest number of potential customers. One example of an accessory that focuses on aesthetics is a USB lava lamp. It may not serve a functional purpose or provide much measurable entertainment, but it does appeal to some’s aesthetic senses.

In the case of the original Zune, its boxy construction was a downside when compared to the rounded corners of the iPod. This small difference was pointed out on tech review sites across the web as one of the drawbacks of Microsoft’s media player.

Is it Entertaining?
This quality goes hand-in-hand with functionality. If the accessory doesn’t serve a productive purpose, it should at least entertain. This, like aesthetics, is a quality judged by each individual user. A steering wheel may not get work done at the office, but it might aid in the entertainment of its user. The same can be said for gimmicky items including USB missile turrets.

What App is Your Favorite?

For longer than I can remember, people have asked me, “What is your favorite app?” The answer to this question is typically whatever does the job I need it to do when I need it to do it. This means if I am out of the house and I want to make sure my alarm is set, the app for that is my favorite one at that time. If you asked me to name one in particular to be my all time favorite, I’d have to say the browser.

There is no platform more prolific and universally available than the web. The web is home to the largest hub of information known to man, the best apps, and tools for just about every job you could imagine needing to have done. Through my browser, I can check my bank account, do my taxes, get directions, communicate with others, and even edit photos. It doesn’t matter if I’m using a device running on OS X, Windows, Linux, iOS, Windows Phone 7, or Android. The web is the most universal platform in existence presently.

The web never requires me to update, upgrade, or buy a pro version. It’s always there, day or night and it doesn’t care if I’m running a netbook phone, or desktop system.

When you think about it, most modern apps actually rely on the web to operate. A large number of these apps contact online services which are in themselves applications that can be accessed using a simple browser. There is a time and a place for apps, but if you look in terms of sheer amount of functionality and diversity, the web is second to none.

So, if you want to know what my favorite app is in general, I’d have to say Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and even Internet Explorer are among apply because I use them to access my favorite software platform.



Dear Fanboys: Go Away

Do you have any idea how much I loathe the fanboy mentality? I honestly don’t care if you’re an Apple lover, a Microsoft admirer or an Android proponent – you’re all equally insane! Being a fanboy does not mean you enjoy or believe in one product more than another these days. It means that you are so insanely narrow-sighted that you cannot possibly understand that a different brand may just work better for another person – or even yourself.

Hat tip to Chu Chu for this fantastic fanboy depiction!

I had an eye on Twitter a few moments ago, and noticed that a friend was sad to realize that her three-year-old HP TouchSmart is slowly starting to fade. This has been her primary machine since August of 2008, y’all. She works from home and spends about ten hours per day – seven days each week – using the heck out of this beast. I’d say it has held up pretty well, wouldn’t you? Through blogging, Tweeting, video editing and even gaming, this setup has never let her down. Not once in nearly three years has she complained about this piece of equipment being bad, wrong, cheap or poorly made.

Wouldn’t you know it – an Apple fanboy was quick to jump down her throat in a Tweet response. His response? “That’s what you get for buying cheap crap. You should have gotten an iPad.” Fanboysaywhat? Are you serious here? Any computer that holds up for three years under intense usage – with NO upgrades or hardware changes at all – is obviously not “cheap crap” as you claim.

This is what I’m talking about. This person is so blinded by his lust for all things Apple that he has failed to realize his beloved product wouldn’t even work for what she needs. (Let’s also not forget that the iPad didn’t even exist when this particular computer became hers in August, 2008!) Would you honestly attempt to use an iPad as your main computer? If you can then kudos to you. As much as I adore my iPad 2, there is no way in hell I am going to get rid of my desktop. I’m willing to bet most of you wouldn’t, either.

Here’s a tip, fanboys: lighten up. Learn to embrace the fact that other people have different needs, wants and likes than you do. Stop harassing them and shoving your favorites down their throat each time there’s a problem with their favorite product. Guess what? Yours isn’t perfect, either.