My father is wanting a new computer, and I am trying to help him decide what he really wants. To refresh your memories, my father is retired and currently is using an XP desktop. I have already discussed laptop versus desktop. Next, we need to decide what OS to use.

Ubuntu is not an option. Even though it is quickly progressing as a mainstream OS, Ubuntu still requires too much tinkering under the hood. It will continue to get more popular, but it is not ready for primetime yet.

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XP seems to be the easy, logical choice. Dad is already comfortable with much of XP’s interface. If he decides to use a laptop, he is going to be learning about networks, trackpads, and a whole bunch of other new stuff related to that. Adding a different operating system on top of it all might be too much. All of his old programs and hardware will still work fine. Plus, he can always decide to upgrade to Vista at a later date.

However, if my father is wanting a new computer, he is probably not really enjoying his current computing experience. He has already asked me about upgrading to Vista when it first came out. He certainly seems to be anxious for a change.

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A switch to Vista would give most of the advantages of XP. (Vista Video Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here) For the most part the interace is very similar. In fact, you can even switch Vista back to an XP look. Most of his current software and hardware is likely to work too. On the down side, Vista only improves the user’s experience on a few fronts. Some of the changes to the user interface are confusing. Vista contains a lot of annoying bugs. Plus, Vista is treated poorly in the community, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vista fades quickly much like Windows Millennium did.

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Changing to an Apple system with OS X would be a big leap. (OS X Movie Tour here.) OS X is a much better, much easier (but also very different) interface than windows. Most day to day activities are more simple on OS X, but learning a completely new operating system is tough. Spyware, viruses, and bugs are much less of a worry on the Apple system. However, much of his current hardware and sofware are unlikely to work. Many of the day to day activities such as editing and printing pictures would need to be retaught and relearned. Most of the games and software that he uses now, he would have to give up. (Parallels or Boot Camp would be way over his head.) The lack of a nearby Apple store for training keeps things tough. If dad can get over the hump and learn OS X, his overall experience is likely to be better than with a Microsoft system. That hump just seems to be large.

If dad was not already comfortable with an operating system, I would suggest starting with OS X. However, now that he knows XP, should I reinvent the wheel?

Any suggestions?

The journey starts off innocently enough…

To: “David Kirk”
Subject: Lap Top
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 09:41:18 -0400
MIME-Version: 1.0

I am going to get a laptop. I need your help on what and where to get .

Dad

My father wants to get a laptop. I have that feeling that a parent gets when a child asks for a car or a bike or whatever. What appears to be a simple task is really a challenge to find the perfect fit.

Clark Kent glasses
Creative Commons License photo credit: Andrew*

Easy answers exist. If I were a zealot one way or another, then I would tell him to get whatever is my favorite device of the moment. I could be lazy and just send him a bunch of links and then hope he figures it out all on his own. Easy answers would lead to confusion and frustration for both of us — especially with parents living 13 hours away.

Dad is currently running an XP box with broadband, printer, scanner, and a couple of digital cameras. He learns well through step-by-step directions but can stumble if new obstacles are thrown his way. He transitioned away from AOL easily enough. However, storing, editing, and retrieving photos in an efficient way still seems challenging.

Just when I think Dad’s system is running well, he wants a laptop. Of course, he does. Everybody wants a laptop. My desktop is used less and less since I started with my laptop. My wife is the same way. A laptop, however, introduces a whole bunch of new challenges.

To work well, a laptop needs a wifi network. To exchange files between a laptop and desktop is not painless or intuitive. Using a scanner and a printer with a laptop has unique challenges too. To top it all off, I have to decide if now would be a good time to introduce Dad to the world of Apple and OS X.

I wanted Dad and me to sit down over some adult beverages and discuss this; however, he is excited to get started. Anxiously, I have been pondering my plan, and I hope I have found the correct path. I am going to tackle each potential decision as a separate blog post. I will try to weigh the strengths and weakness at each step to help Dad make his choice. Hopefully, my blog readers will chime in with additional information as well.

Here are a few examples of planned posts:

  • Laptop versus desktop
  • Apple versus Microsoft
  • Save or ditch the desktop

I will start each post from a beginner level and expand into our normal geek territory. If interesting comments appear, I will amend and edit my posts to reflect new ideas as well.

My father was key into getting me into computers. I get my technology-loving side honestly. Help us find him the best system.

I will blog these entries as computer4dad if you want to keep up with the series.

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HP's Undefined Adsense

April 14th, 2008

While browsing my buddy arn’s MacRumors site, I chuckled at hp throwing money away at adsense on his site…

hp undefined

You might want to work on your adwords campaign there, HP. ;)

Many people have assumed that once the official SDK was released that jailbreaking would die. I believe that the jailbreak process is something that will be linked to the iPhone for eternity. As long as Apple limits absolute and complete control, the jailbreak community will continue to flourish.

Let me take a step back for those less geek-inclined. Programs can be developed for the iPhone through two different methods. The official SDK that is being released by Apple will eventually allow programs to be released to users through iTunes. These applications can be purchased much like users purchase iTunes music or videos. Prior to the release of the official SDK, unofficial methods that were not approved by Apple were used to develop software for the iPhone. In order to use these applications, the user is required to “hack” or to jailbreak the phone. So now, two different, incompatible styles exist for iPhone application development — the official SDK and jailbreak methods.

Where is all the code being developed with the official iPhone SDK? As far as I can tell, there is only one SDK app, other than the examples, that can be found in the wild. Tons of jailbreak code and examples can be found. One of the reasons behind this is that the official SDK will allow programmers to make cash from their applications. Once money is added into the equation, suddenly people are less willing to show source code to the public.

One would assume that the promise of coding for dollars would make jailbreak methods die a quick death. However, it has not. Why? Here are the reasons that jailbreaking will be around forever.

    1. Official SDK has coding limitations. The SDK will never allow full access to the iPhone’s complete capabilities. Cellular VoIP, background processes, wireless synchronization — these are just a few of the multiple limitations in the official SDK which are being explored (or exploited) with jailbreak code.

    2. Users are passionate about hacking and unlocking their mobile devices. I think seamonkey420 hacks or mods a mobile device about once a week. Like tattoos, clothing, or jewelry, cellular devices are now part of a person’s style. Making the phone unique or using it in a locale where it is not supposed to work is part of the mobile hacking drive.

    3. Until the iPhone is carrier independent, jailbreaking will be required. Lots of countries do not have an iPhone carrier. Unlocking the phone is tied directly to jailbreaking. People will pay good money to be able to use their phone with whatever cellular service they want. As long as jailbreaking is tied to cellular independence, it will continue to exist.

    4.People will want apps that Apple will not allow. Free music, free “pictures,” and streaming technologies are all examples of applications that Apple will be unlikely to ever allow. AT&T (or whoever the iPhone carrier of choice is) cannot allow bandwidth to be drained from the system.

    5.Apple may limit or repress application distribution. Applications with encryption may not be exported out of the United States in certain circumstances. Apple may require that apps have extensive testing prior to release. Such a process may prevent hobbyist programmers from joining the game. Apple could even require that applications not be distributed for free. The way Apple handles the iPhone application distribution could really change how excited developers are to use the official system.

I am sure there are other reasons that the process of jailbreaking will continue to exist. I do believe that the official SDK will gain traction. If iTunes allows small programmers to make money the way it has allowed small musicians to compete in the music marketplace, it will be successful.

Although Apple has little desire to make the official SDK compatible with the unofficial methods, the converse is unlikely to stay true. The unofficial methods will eventually develop and absorb SDK compatibility. That way if an app developed with the official SDK is denied access to the public through iTunes, it can still be released through alternative, jailbreak installers. If there are two ways to code something, most programmers will choose the official methods to keep their options open for later release.

Although Apple is finally opening up the iPhone platform to application development, the unofficial jailbreaking methods are not going to disappear. The terms “iPhone” and “jailbreak” will be forever linked in history.

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New HandBrake is Much Faster

February 28th, 2008

I downloaded the new HandBrake for both XP and OS X today. I have been exceptionally impressed. I am currently ripping some of my DVD library on both systems and thought I would give my initial impressions.

This version of handbrake is dramatically faster. I have not seen benchmarks between the two version but the upgrade is not subtle. Within OS X on my MBP I am seeing my fps increase from the mid twenties to the mid thirties using my typical encoding settings. On my underpowered Vista box, I am seeing increases going from the low teens to mid twenties. There is no doubt in my mind that this version of handbrake is much faster.

Installation on OS X was a snap. Drop the app file into the applications folder and allow it to overwrite. HandBrake on the mac will gladly rip many DVDs even with copy protection.

Installation within Vista was a double click away. My first attempt at coding within vista failed however. As usual, running HandBrake in administrative mode fixed that. HandBrake for windows does not rip copy protected media.

The Vista version of the graphical interface still does not have the picture preview function. I find this essential in trying to pick deinterlacing settings for my old home videos and DVDs that are interlaced.

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More feature disappointments for the new version of Apple TV.

No Video Playlists.

One of the amazing features on the audio side of Apple TV is the ability to play audio playlists. Select a playlist full of songs and you can listen all day. Why not the same for video?

A local wine company displays a video of visits to the wine country using the Apple TV. Shouldn’t they be able to have a playlists of videos from multiple trips running? I would love to have a continuous run of music videos, for example.

Obviously, this is something that can be updated in future revisions.

No Sharing.

Oh, if you have more than one Apple TV, you are not going to be able to share rented content between them. If you rent something on your Apple TV, that content is locked to that device. You can not bounce it back to iTunes or transfer it to any other device.

If you rent it on iTunes, you can bounce it where you need it. Just remember that iTunes rentals will be lower quality than direct-to-device rentals.

The initial version of Time Capsule will not allow streaming directly to Apple TV. It is uncertain if this will be something that will be allowed in future versions or not.

Despite direct to device renting available, Apple TV continues to be dependent on iTunes for synchronization. If (and it’s a big if) the Time Capsule can be used as network storage, it should be theoretically possible to use it to store the iTunes library externally.

External drive (air disk) -> computer with iTunes -> Apple TV

However, most people agree that currently iTunes does not handle network shares smoothly or consistently.

The dream of dumping all the media on an external device and using it without an additional box is still a far dream away.

When Apple throws the switch on renting through iTunes, here is how you do it.

1. Within iTunes, click iTunes Store in the left column.

2. Navigate through the store and select the movie you want to rent.

3. Hit the Rent button. The download will start.

If the rent button is not there, then that movie is not available for renting.

Note: If you plan on watching a rented movie on an AppleTV, you should rent directly from the device. For some reason, this ensures the highest quality.

Rented movies expire if not watched after 30 days. Once the movie is started playing, the user has 24 hrs to complete viewing.

All of this info is found in the new iTunes 7.6 help files.  I’ll update with further details when Apple actually activates the service.

Hey, Guys. I am typing this as I watch the live reporting from MacWorld.

1. Time Capsule

This device is an Airport Extreme Router with built-in hard drive. Of course, the AirPort Extreme has always supposedly supported connecting a drive to it via USB. It’s just never worked well. This looks like a local backup options for notebook owners through Leopard’s Time Machine. Of course, if your house burns down, you still are dead with all of your content and backups in one place.

If they can do this, it is sad that you cannot just backup to a USB drive connected to the router.

If you can sync your music/videos/photos, then it gets a lot sexier. 500GB ($299) and 1TB ($499) versions will be available.

2. New free iPhone/iTouch Features

  • SMS Multiple People at once
  • Webclips = website bookmarks on your home screen. Very map related.
  • Chapter and Language Options in iPod mode
  • Maps with localization using Google’s cellphone triangulation and wi-fi hotspot signals.
  • Customize the home screen
  • iTouch can get the following programs for $20
    • Mail
    • Stocks
    • Notes
    • Weather
    • Maps

3. iTunes Movie Rentals

All major studies to provide rentals through iTunes. The user has 30 days to start watching once purchased. Once started, the user has 24 hours to complete the viewing. New releases $3.99 and standards are $2.99. iTunes and suppported devices being upgraded today to support the rentals.

4. Apple TV Take 2

The new AppleTV will support true HD. The device can be used with or without out a computer. This includes purchasing and renting. It will sync from flickr, .mac, podcasts, etc. HD movies can be rented at $4.99. Old Apple TV devices will receive a free software upgrade to enable these features.

The price of Apple TV decreasing to $229 for the starting price for the 40GB.

5. MacBook Air

“The World’s Thinnest Notebook.” The thickest part is about 3/4 of an inch. 3 pounds. The display is a 13.3″ widescreen with LED backlight. It has a 13.x inch display with LED backlighting. It has an iSight camera. It has an ambient light sensor with backlit keys. It has multitouch/gesture trackpad.

1.8″ Hard Drive 80 GB hard disk standard, but 64 GB SSD is an option. 2GB memory is standard. CPU is Intel Core 2 Duo with 1.6 GHz Standard and a 1.8 GHz Option. Bluetooth and wireless n are included. Optical drive is available as accessory. Battery life estimated to be 5 hours with wifi on. The device is greener for the environment.

Software is installed from an optical drive on any microsoft or mac computer (loaded with special software).

Price starts at $1799 and will start shipping in two weeks.

The Ten Internet Trends of 2007

December 17th, 2007

When we look back on 2007 in a few years, these ten topics and companies will be the milestones that will be referenced and debated:

  • 1. Google Pushes Its Power
  • 2. Aggregators Polluted by the Mobs
  • 3. Mobile Web. Why?
  • 4. User-Submitted Profits
  • 5. Apple Leaps
  • 6. Microsoft Tumbles
  • 7. DRM. Die. Die. Die.
  • 8. Main Stream Media Invasion
  • 9. Politics’ Internet Fruitfulless
  • 10. Social Network Assimilation

1. Google

Google is currently the most powerful technology company in the world. With dominance in search and advertising, profits and stock prices have been impressive.

This year will be remembered as the point that google starting flexing its power to change people’s actions on the internet. Matt Cutts confirmed that google would punish people buying and selling links to influence search engine placement.

Google decreased the clickable adsense area which decreased some publishers’ income by well over 50%.

Google has openly started attacking social networks such as Facebook by joining the smaller networks through the OpenSocial API and by socializing Google services such as Google Reader. This dilutes the power that any one social networking system has. Google’s purchase of Jaiku is a direct competitor to IM candy Twitter. Google’s Android dilutes the potential power of a cellular network as well.

Wikipedia and squidoo will soon be feeling the google crunch next. Collaborative content is one of the most amazing products being created and delivered on the internet. Google’s Knol wants to compete here as well. Like many others, TechCrunch is worried about the conflict of interest:

Google says that Knol pages will be indexed into their search engine but will have no special ranking. That’s a little bit untrue, since they’ll be hosted by Google and will have the advantage of Google’s hefty PageRank to lift them in search results. And since no one will be auditing Google to ensure that Knol pages are treated just like everyone else, there are bound to be claims of conflict of interest.

This first started by competing with Microsoft through online services. Is Google’s strategy to dilute any potential collection of power?

2. Web 2.0 Aggregators

Digg and Reddit have moved away from tech. Sad.

Mob Rule. Tyranny of the Majority. Ochlocracy. Whatever you call it, these sites are the weak, fluffy versions of what they used to be. As the less-geek have moved in, the content of these aggregators have followed. Even the creators cannot control the sites anymore.

Unless you have a large social connection within these sites, you have no chance of getting an article viewed… (unless you pay for it.) Socializing is more important than quality.

Although I view both of these sites on a daily basis, they are frequently gamed, overcome with political manipulation, often filled with spamish links, and are utterly unrealiable as news sources.

What’s the alternative? You can always read what the A-List boys’s club is echoing about on techmeme. Or you can watch the main stream news… which is frequently gamed, overcome with manipulation… You get the idea.

3. Mobile Web

The mobile web is growing and growing. However, unless you are selling ringtones, nobody has figured how to make money from it. Even mobile web experts are puzzled on the exact nature of making money through mobile devices.

Plus, does there have to be a special “mobile web” anymore? The iPhone displays regular web content through a cell interface. Instead of manipulating content to look pretty on tiny browsers, manipulate the cell web browser to view existing content well on the cellular interface. When was the last time you remember visiting a mobi site?

4. User-Submitted Profits

Everybody is making money on the back on the users.

NewsVine, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Digg, Reddit, YouTube, Facebook. If you really think about it, none of these companies would work without the public building content for them. You are building content for them. Congratulations! When do you expect your check?

Even blogs and forums get boost from comments and discussions created within their communities. (Please comment, please, please, please…)

How long will people continue to sow content in the sites of others for free?

5. Apple

I personally believe that this was an amazing year for Apple. Apple stocks are certainly booming.

The iPhone has changed the cellular landscape that parallels how the iPod changed the portable musical player market. Apple’s commericals are painfully clever in their attacks against Microsoft. Leopard’s problems have been far less damaging than Vista’s which has helped as well. Overall, more and more people are considering moving to Apple’s platform.

Apple has shown areas of weakness, however. The AppleTV push has really died for the general public. With an anorexic iTunes movie selection, the AppleTV has little appeal to the nongeek. iTunes itself is having growing pains with content providers. NBC/Universal have decided to play hardball with TV shows and music. It’s difficult to know how it is going to play out. Apple is understandingly becoming weaker and weaker for DRM as well.

Being less ambitious than Vista has played well for Leopard. However, the new OS X is still causing growing pains for a lot of people. Feeling the vapor, we are still wondering where the much promised ZFS is?

6. Microsoft

As a one time Microsoft zealot, I am pained to see what has happened to Microsoft this year. Vista is failing because it has taken users too many steps as once. We all had to throw away most of our old hardware when XP rolled out. Most of us accepted this because the pre-XP experience was so unstable. XP was the successful promise of easy usage and stability. I wanted to install XP for my parents because I knew it would make things easier for them.

Today the market is different. Things worked pretty well before Vista. People do not want to sacrifice most of their hardware to get things working correctly. Plus, now we have 32-bit versus 64-bit discussion and “ultimate” products that add little except confusion.

Away from the OS, Microsoft’s search engines and ad networks are stagnant, and Microsoft certainly seems to be trying to kill html email usability. From my experience at FOWD, Sean Siebel is not an impressive “User Experience Evangelist.” At least Scoble tried.

Microsoft has made a few positive steps this year. The Microsoft Home Server is a new idea for a new market. If done well, it could be an essential box in every household. IE7 is a large improvement over IE6. Microsoft is investing in Facebook. Even the second Zune release (and the free software upgrade to the first version) is finally generating a little positive Microsoft buzz. Silverlight and Surface are sexy and innovative.

7. DRM

Could 2007 be the year that DRM finally starts to die?

Die. Die. Die.

Shawn Fanning’s original idea of drm-free Napster could exist in several different forms over the next few years. iTunes Plus and Amazon’s DRM free shows that the big guys are creeping into this direction. Steve Jobs thinks this way, too.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows “pay us what you want” experiment is exciting. Saul Williams and Trent Reznor are doing something similar.

Give them the music for free and sell them on the other stuff. It’s coming.

8. Main Stream Media

How about give them the content for free, too?

The New York Times is finally free. Online circulation is having to make up for the dying dead trees distribution:

Nationwide, average daily paid newspaper circulation declined 2.6 percent in the six months that ended Sept. 30, compared with the previous year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an independent organization that monitors the industry. Sunday circulation dropped 3.5 percent nationwide during the same period.

As the main stream media looks to supplement eyeball views with online content, their articles are appearing more and more in news aggregators. How long until we figure out that some of digg’s top users are on the payrolls of popular newspapers or public relations companies?

As advertising dollars move from TV and newspaper to the internet, the main stream media is following. How much this will drown out the current boom on citizen journalism is unclear.

9. Internet and Politics

Howad Dean’s success and subsequent failure seemed to grow from within communities within the internet. Was online activism a good idea too early? Will the traditionally nonvoting, young, internet crowd actually play any role in the upcoming elections? These are the questions that campaigns are asking .

Campaigns are on MySpace, FaceBook, and YouTube. You can not read digg or reddit without reading about Ron Paul or Kucinich. Of course, strike911 received active buzz throughout the internet without getting support from the general public or receiving any real main stream press.

This campaign cycle should be a great test to see if online voting and protesting will cause any offline results.

10. Social Networks

Online social networks have continued to grow throughout 2007. The large players like MySpace and Facebook are ubiquitous. How they are changing our interactions with our personal worlds are staggering. The influence and entertainment role of TV is being largely supplanted by these social networks. For many, offline social interactions are first initiated and planned online. Small niches of personalities and beliefs can find like-minded partners.

The success of YouTube and Flickr is obviously dependent on their social interactions. Digg and reddit are driven by social interactions. Dating networks are thriving.

As more of our social lives are played out online, more of our personal information is accessible online as well. More of our personal actions and characteristics are targeted by advertisers. More of our actions can be collected and used against us. Will an insurance company be able to find out that you are a member of a tobacco social group or a Huntington’s disease facebook group? The ultimate balance between profit and privacy will be difficult.

11. Memes?

Oh wait.. I left out lolcats. I am not sure if that’s a trend or a plague, but 2007 is certainly the a year of it. Or maybe it’s not a trend, maybe it is a meme. Who knows anymore…

Conclusion:
As I reread my article, my overall feeling is that our experience on the internet is becoming more complex. The name “google” no longer gives most people warm and fuzzy feelings. Digg and reddit are often manipulated more than main stream media. Facebook is looking to trade privacy for profits.

The idea of a “do no evil” company is more likely an untruth than an oxymoron. Previously, we thought it was possible on the internet. No more.

Of course, I would not want to do without Facebook, Digg, Reddit, or Google. We all benefit from the battles between Apple and Microsoft. Companies need to make money to survive. The balance is tough.

The real world continues to invades our idealist internet utopia. “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” but I would rather be here than anywhere else.