2008 Please be Tech Friendly – Please!

Posted on January 2nd, 2008 in Business & Industry, News & Updates, Tech & Science | No Comments »


Happy New Year, and I do truly mean that as January 1st rings in all kinds of wonderful possibilities. Besides the always obvious opportunities for improved diet, fitness and finances I’m praying for a better year in Tech.


2007 proved to be an epicly disappointing year when you consider the lack of technical innovation. Don’t go confusing technology “hype” for real advancement. In fact 2007 might actually be one of the more over hyped years I can recall – iPhone or FaceBook ring a bell?


But on to better things! 2008 holds much promise for all things good and geeky; to this end I’ll be investigating all that CES has to offer next week, look for some updates on the blog and my picks for devices that are must haves. So cheers, a new year of Tech, I’ll drink to that!


Minty Fresh Goodness

Posted on December 3rd, 2007 in Linux/Unix | No Comments »

What happens when you take one part Irish Spring soap, a tin of Altoids and the latest Ubuntu distro? You get Mint Linux – and yummy it is indeed!

No doubt the Linux landscape is full of options – this is perhaps one of the reasons that Linux adoption on the desktop has stalled – So I’m not quick to endorse new comers to the party. With the ease of use, solid performance and growing traction of Ubuntu; I’ve not needed to look to others for most of my needs.

But having said this, I do want to shine the spotlight on Linux Mint. This great distro coming out of the Emerald Isle features an earthy green theme, pleasant for sure and in some ways superior to its parent distro, Ubuntu. With Mint you get the best of many worlds, innovate design and artwork, bundled closed source drivers/apps and the same great repositories that power Ubuntu revs.

One of the best features of Mint, that really sets it apart form its parent Ubuntu, is the inclusion of many must haves like Codecs, Adobe Flash, and proprietary wireless/Nvidia/ATI drivers just to cite a few. Some purists object to the presence of these closed-source packages, but most users find it a great time saver when installing.

So if you what to try something a little spicy and fresh give Mint a try.

New Simplified Vista Naming

Posted on November 26th, 2007 in Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

As the one year anniversary of Windows Vista rolls around many people will be buying new computers this holiday season, and it seams an appropriate time to post this little Vista buying guide.

Occasionally, I am forced to explain the Vista SKU landscape for customers who are contemplating an upgrade. While I try to explain to them that friends don’t let friends buy Vista – some insist, if you are in a similar position, I’ve prepared this short guide to assist you in your selection process.

Vista Barely Basic – This ships on most low end systems and is designed to force users into immediate hardware upgrades as they discover anything less then 4 Gig of Ram on a multi-core processor will result in performance worse then a 386SX/25 running Windows 95.

Vista Home Worthless
– in an effort to target the home market and highlight the new Aero interface, Vista Home Worthless and it’s Media Center equipped sibling, Vista Home Pathetic, boast reduced networking capabilities compared to every previous version of windows and a new 99% game incompatibility mode.

Vista Business Incomplete
– Business runs on Windows and what better way to distract employees and reduce worker productivity than to introduce them to this exciting new OS! With new security features like the UAC (Uncontrollable Anytime Crashing) and a new massively incompatible driver model – it will leave both your users and IT support staff in a quandary.

Vista Ultimate (a.k.a. Ubuntu) – The Ultimate edition is simply put, the one you want – and I’m not talking about the $399 dollar one, I’m instead encouraging you to download the latest Free Ubuntu distro. Chalked full of “Eye-Candy” that exceeds the capabilities of any version of Vista, superior driver compatibilities and best of all you will enter a blue screen of death free zone.

Vista Robbins – 31 Flavors of Vista?

Needless to say, its a pretty sad state of affairs when you have practically as many flavors of a Windows operating system as a major ice cream parlor has options for a double cone! Even sadder still when you consider all the offerings of Vista are fundamentally broken.

One year into this latest remake of Windows and I continue to ask where is the Wow? Vista has done it predecessors proud, that is if you count it as the latest member of the Windows ME and MS BOB family tree!

Long live Old people and their Email

Posted on November 19th, 2007 in Internet & Networking, Tech & Science | No Comments »

Recently it has been reported that Email is just a relic soon to be replaced by Facebook and other social networks. Proponents of this viewpoint go on to argue that only older people – like over 20 – use email.


Good Lord, I can’t believe I’m about to defend email but here goes… As broken, SPAM infested, and exploitable email is, it’s still the foundation of communications on the internet. Maybe I’m just one of these “old People” who just doesn’t get the social networking obsession, but as a 20 year IT vet who uses IM communications on a daily basis for work, I just don’t see it supplanting email; and don’t even get me starting about how ridiculous it is to think of MySpace as a professional communications platform.

It’s all about the iGoopple baby!

Posted on November 15th, 2007 in Apple, Business & Industry, Internet & Networking | No Comments »

Psst! hey buddy I have a hot stock pick for yea… Warning: All of my investing advice should be consumed with a grain of salt. In the spirit of full disclosure; I discovered just how bad a day trader I am during the last tech bubble of 2000! But, seeing we are now peaking in the Bubble 2.0 era, it seams an appropriate time for me to dust off my stock prognostication skills and post about two of the most influential tech issues out there.

Apple and Google – In a Class of their own

Some tech companies are all about the hype, while others actually deliver on the goods, but rarely do you find established players that are both profitable while simultaneously maintaining that meteoric level of excitement present in a pre-IPO startup; and then there’s Google and Apple. Titans of tech both command legions of devoted customers, soaring share prices and massive media attention. But is their stock worth it today? Is there still room for growth?

Fundamentals Don’t Matter

While many business analysts and fund managers are quick to cite trends and backup their stock ratings with statistics like earnings per share, Cash reserves, or the state of a company’s management team, in the case of both Apple and Google these hard facts don’t seam to matter.

The usual barometers for company health and stock value can not measure these firms. While some might argue this is just a symptom of the new tech bubble, Apple and Google are so compelling, their momentum is virtually unstoppable. Let’s look a little deeper at each company and try to uncover why this is.

Google – It’s about the Ads stupid!

The key thing to understand about Google is that they’re an advertisement firm. Nope, not a search engine or social network or widget provider or even soon to be a mobile phone OS, Google is the new ad medium of our time – and it’s only going to grow.

Google Ad sense is already the most profitable aspect of the company, and while search made them famous, ads are paying the bills. Look for this to continue especially as Google branches into new ventures and platforms like the Open Social and Gphone OS spec. With a billion plus potential people to target – and I do mean target – the sky, and share price, are the limit.

Potential pitfalls do exist though. Foreign government’s demands to block access or hand over results as a provision of doing business in their country (think China) have created industry watcher and human rights concerns, even some loyal fan base outrage. Privacy, however, is an even greater source of discord. As users freely disclose marketing and demographic data that Google and its partners are using to targeting products and services at users with precision accuracy, privacy advocates warn that too much personal information is being amassed.

While these concerns are only likely to grow given Google’s pervasive plans, end-users simply enjoy Google’s offerings too much to give them up. Combine end users insatiable appetite for convenience with the virtual ubiquity of Google’s services – and therefore ad placement opportunities – and you have a formula for continued success. Looks like the stock is still a bargain at $1000 per share!

Apple Uber Allies

If there is one lesson that can be learned from both the Jonestown massacre and Apple’s stock performance as of late; the cult of personality is alive and well. Now I’m not saying that Steve Jobs is a charismatic, magnetic, tyrannical cult leader… then again, let me get back to you on that. Regardless of whether you want to attribute Apple’s success to its vivacious leader, there’s no question that Job’s return to Apple has ushered in a new era of profitability and market share expansion.

Apple is unquestionably the most over hyped and over covered tech company out there. Despite all the ink that has been spilled chronicling Apple’s greatness and the zealous fan base, even this non-Apple user has to admit; Apple is really firing on all cylinders and its stock is only going to climb. This growth is going to be driven by continued dominance of the iPod/iTunes ecosystem, strong computer sales (as Microsoft Vista falters), and the long term impact of Apple’s entry into the wireless space, ala the iPhone.

So when analyzing Apple the bottom line is: despite the excessive hype surrounding their products, software and dynamic CEO, Apple is still an issue to buy and hold.

Mobiles are the Future

Both Google and Apple are focused on the future, and the future is phones. Apple has already made a tidy chunk of change this year with the iPhone, and relatively speaking this is just the tip of the iceberg. While Google’s Android platform will not be ramping up till mid 2008, the search and ad giant is not about to surrender the mobile market to Apple, Microsoft or Palm.

Not only do mobiles represent new revenue streams for Apple and Google, but they usher in the next battlefield for consumer minds and pocketbooks. The companies that dominate the coming generation of highly integrated mobile voice/messaging/computing devices will undoubtedly see dramatic profits and stock appreciation. Google and Apple both know this and have set in motion strategies to capture this market, this anticipated growth and Apple/Google’s positioning for it is one of the most compelling reasons to own both companies.

Forget the Hype, Buy Apple and Google

It’s hard to find two companies that have greater visibility that Google and Apple. They are part of our daily lives, covered exhaustively and considered over valued by many. Despite what the detractors have to say, these issues are must haves for any tech portfolio. Heck the only thing that would make them more attractive is a merger. What would we call them? iGoopple?

Vonage on a Banana Peal

Posted on November 9th, 2007 in Business & Industry | No Comments »

As one surveys the tech landscape you don’t have to look very hard before it becomes painfully obvious that some companies that are here today will, no doubt, be gone tomorrow. Many technology and business analysts are quick to point out that we are simply in the midst of, “Bubble 2.0”, and this is to be expected. I argue that there are no prerequisite conditions required for a bad business model.

Having said this, some companies manage to elevate the art of promoting a failing business to epic levels. Today’s case in point is Vonage; or as I like to refer to them, “Dead VoIP Walking.”

Vonage: you know them even if you don’t use their service, thanks to a ubiquitous “orange” marketing campaign that prompts “people do stupid things everyday – like paying to much for phone service”, an ironic marketing tactic seeing how they are trying to operate the organization in a similar illogical fashion. Quickly, let’s look at the factors contributing to Vonage’s impending implosion.

Legal Woes without End

While Vonage is doing some clever marketing and enjoys some modicum of success with attracting new subscribers, market penetration is not really an issue, seeing how they could soon be sued out of existence! Patent case after case not only puts the entire revenue stream in jeopardy, but also acts as a drag on company resources and erodes confidence in the long term viability of the service. New technologies like VoIP are difficult enough a sell to non-tech users as it is, add doubts about your phone provider’s future, and the potential loss of service… Good luck with attracting and retaining customers.

Crushing Competition Closes In

Incumbent Telcos and Cable providers have compelling offerings that are either easier to use (or at least understand) and some cases are even cheaper when you factor in the discounts offered via service bundles. No question local dial-tone providers are not the most innovative kids on the block, but once forced to fight or run, they are now fighting back! In addition to the legal challenges from major players like Verizon, carriers have launched their own VoIP and/or unlimited fixed rate calling programs. Cable companies, long interested in lucrative IP dollars, are now in direct competition with the local bell companies and aren’t about to see an upstart like Vonage steal that action.

Forget about Vonage or your local dial-tone provider – Skype has already won. With a larger user install base then any other VoIP offering, a robust international network, droves of third-party hardware and lower prices, why would anyone select Vonage over Skype? Perhaps Ebay should open its wallet and fund a major marketing effort for Skype; at this point it would be a merciful act, bringing a quicker end to the ill fated Vonage.

The End is Nigh

One might conclude that VoIP is doomed, but quite the contrary. VoIP is just beginning to come into its own, unfortunately Vonage is just a sacrificial lamb on the alter of disruptive technologies – Remember that cute sock puppet or those home grocery vans?

The Bottom line: look for Vonage to cease operations as we know them in the next three to six months. As the Vonage pitch implies, ”Signing up with a VoIP provider that will soon be defunct, now that’s just stupid!”

Mobiles and Music Unite!

Posted on November 1st, 2007 in Business & Industry, Gadgets | No Comments »

In the 1980’s music lovers where energized by the fusion of an established medium, Television, and the record business; the result had everyone demanding “I want my MTV!” It’s a fantastic example of two technologies cross-pollinating each other and forming vibrant new products and business avenues. Today a similar marriage of media and technology is taking place in the wireless mobile space – and its going to be big!

The last decade has shown us the evolving face of music, and I’m not talking about the raise or fall of any genre, style or particular artists, but rather the publics method of procuring and digesting their musical selections. Music is moving faster then ever, from car based MP3 Players, to the culture of “sharing” music via P-to-P networks, to the ubiquity iPod users jogging or commuting on the train; music is all digital and always mobile. Music on wireless devices is just the next logical extension of this move to a more on-line and mobile community.

One Gadget to Rule them All

Its simple really, users want one device to handle all their mobile needs. Convenience
is cool – who wants to carry multiple devices, but again fusion is the key here. Up till now the convergence of PDAs and Cell phones has represented only a limited segment of the total mobile market; partially due to the marketing of high-end PDA phones to business users vs. consumers, but largely due to price points on these handsets, but that’s changing. The next generation of musically inclined, consumer oriented phones are available now, they’re slicker, sexier and more geared for the mass market then ever before.

While the relatively pricey ($399) iPhone garners most of the spotlight, in this “Music enabled” phone space, many other options abound and at subsidized prices under a hundred bucks. You can be sure that manufactures like Motorola, LG and Nokia will add more music friendly phones at entry level prices, as the real money is in subscriptions not hardware.

As consumers become more comfortable listening to music on their phones, rather then a dedicated music player like an iPod the next wave of music and technology fusion will smash ashore.

The Social Networking of Mobile Music = Payday

This might be the single biggest paradigm shift that the music industry has ever had to deal with – Music on cell phones. But not because of the intricate legal challenges that the RIAA might dream up, rather due to the inherent social nature of music. On one hand music and communications devices should prompt a, “Well duh”, response, but surprisingly, the implications of this new delivery model have been under reported.

“Surprising” when you take in account the recent valuations of social networks like Facebook. Stay with me now… When you combine the features of an iPod like player on a closed distribution network, that has realtime two-way communication; suitable not only for texting, but ad placement and online sales – connect the dots. We are witnessing the birth of an entirely new social network entertainment and communications platform!

What I’m talking about here is Napster, Myspace, Twitter, iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, and Google all mashed together on a mobile platform – not a fixed desktop or clunky notebook – but a phone, the form factor users already are accustom to using and carrying with them at all times. Its a virtual link into every users wallet as far as telcos are concerned.

Given the present state of exclusive contracts and locked phones in the US market, once a wireless provider get you “hooked” on their phone and service you are locked in and your provider has a few tools to keep you there!

Convenience is King

Let’s face it, we are suckers for ease of use and simplified solutions. Telcos know this, and music on mobiles provide carriers yet another opportunity to exploit this basic human desire.

The sales pitch will go something like this: “Now your whole music collection is available anywhere you are! With {insert provider’s name here} online music library you can easily browse, sample and buy your favorite songs all from your phone.”

It will be criticized by audiophiles and tech aficionados, but is doesn’t matter – the mainstream market, especially everyone under 30 will go gag-gag and start downloading the flavor of the day tunes like a six year old binge eating Halloween candy.

Smart marketing would include an ability to “gift” a song to your friends, building on the social networking aspect of the service, and further shackling you and your “in network” friends.

The Subscription Model finally gets its day in the Sun

While all of these songs could be made available on an ala cart pricing schedule, the truly innovative providers will team with or build their own subscription model. All the music you want for XX dollars a month. Lots of upsides to this approach:

Low-end phones with limited memory will have that same access to the music library buy offloading songs played less often. Limited memory phones can be made available at a lower cost to get users into the service.

Users libraries will be available across multiple phones, so if you change out your handset all your selections just reload to it seamlessly.

End-to-end DRM; again tech savvy customers hate it, but mainstream users are clueless about it. Couple a locked phone platform with a proprietary network and these songs aren’t going anywhere – making content providers happy and more apt to cut deals.

Just like all subscription models, consumers will put on their own handcuffs – if they leave their carrier or cancel the music portion of the contract, none of the music remains.

Finally, an iTunes alternative. A subscription service properly implemented gives carriers a real option to present that customers might prefer over the 800 pound gorilla that is Apple’s iTunes Store. Again, this makes content providers happy, as they are sick of there agreements with the online distribution Goliath.

The Time is Now – Sort of…

So when will get to see and hear all this goodness? The short answer is soon – as the pieces are still coming together. Phone hardware is more than up to the challenge, marketing is on-board and hyping the offerings whether the carrier’s infrastructure is ready or not.

With the holidays upon us, and if not “The Holidays” themselves certainly the holiday shopping season, wireless companies are desperately working to convince all that its time buy. Thanks to recent high profile product launches of multi function devices like the Apple iPhone and many Microsoft Windows Mobile based phones, music enabled devices are on everyone’s wish list this year, but should users take the plunge?

It’s safe to say that for early adopters and users willing to “hack” a solution, now is the time, but mainstream adoption of this new bread of music enabled phone is still a ways off. As carriers, who are more motived then ever, setup there contracts with music stores or build out their own we will see better integration with handsets and the marketing to entice new customers. Look to see this level of fusion later in 2008, making next year’s holiday season the break through for Music on Mobiles.

Open Office “Switch” Update: Spell Checker – Not all that and a bag of chips

Posted on October 24th, 2007 in Apple, Business & Industry, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

Its month three since I jettisoned Microsoft Word and Excel, and switched to Open Office as my full-time spreadsheet and document editor. And while the experience has been overall very positive, I’m quite disappointed with the spell checker correction algorithm.

Good spell check has always been a big part of my word-processing needs – Yes, I’m a horrific speller – and the heuristics for the auto-correction is just not on par with Microsoft Word.

Also lacking is the facility for managing custom dictionaries. I was unable to easily port my existing Word compatible dictionary; and by easily I mean the ability to do it in under an hour!

I’ll have more updates on my experiences switching in future posts, but for now I need to mind my spelling.

Get Some Guts; Gutsy That Is

Posted on October 18th, 2007 in Linux/Unix | No Comments »

Happy Gutsy Gibbon day! October 18th marks the release of the latest version of the free Linux based Ubuntu distribution. I’m providing the a direct link to the X86 version of the bittorrent images here – as of this writing it’s a little difficult to get the disk any other way due to load.

I’ve been using the 7.10 (Gutsy) Beta/RC for about a month now and find it to be very stable and usable.

Perhaps one of the most exciting new features of this version is the inclusion of Compiz Fusion by default, with Halloween close at hand think of this as a little candy for your eyes! If you are unfamiliar with the Compiz/Beryl/Fusion saga, suffice it to say the new combine efforts of the Fusion team are looking great and it’s nice to see them being included in major distros – Leopard/Vista visuals have nothing on Compiz Fusion.

At any rate this latest release of Ubuntu is a wonderful starting point for those who might be looking to experiment with Linux, and a must have for existing Feisty (7.04) users.

Can you hear us now Wireless Carriers?

Posted on October 16th, 2007 in Business & Industry, Gadgets | No Comments »

As a life long free market capitalist, I have to question just how screwed up an industry has become when I cheer the thought of new government legislation to “regulate” business practices. Yet that’s exactly where US consumers find themselves as state and federal representatives consider vesting a “Cell Phone user’s Bill of Rights”upon mobile providers.

Whether its a great awakening of consumer awareness that we have been pushed too far by greedy monolithic wireless carriers, or the feverish crescendo of pain users are expressing over all things iPhone – Politicians are taking an interest in the idea of new wireless regulations. As state houses and capital assembles around the country begin to debate measures to protect constituents you can be certain that cell providers are watching with great interest.

How did we get here?

While it feels like it’s been an over night transition, this nexus of user frustration toward wireless companies and said companies’ desires to bulk up their bottom lines has been coming for some time. Think back – circa 1990s; In the past cell phone adoption in the US was viewed as a business expense or the purvey of high-end “luxury” and “geek” markets. Subscriber penetration was lower, but usage costs were generally higher due to heavily metered plans and punitive roaming polices. Fast forward to the present, how the marketplace has changed. Cell phones in North America are so pervasive that many consumers opt to cancel traditional residential land-lines, preferring instead the convenience of full-time mobile usage. Team home phone replacement with ubiquitous family plans and it’s normal now to see such proliferation of phones that practically every eight year old is talking/texting away.

This drastic increase in the number of mobile devices has done more than just multiply the number of area codes we need, it’s been a financial field day for likes of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. Thanks to rapid user growth and the addition of consumer features like ringtones, gaming downloads, music, and texting carriers have snared the masses, now how to keep and fully exploit these subscribers?

Hello, some service would be nice!

Has anyone every truly had a positive customer service experience with their provider? Really I would like to know, seeing as anytime I walk into a local company store to get help with my device or plan, I usually see the heard of bewildered looking, discontented people waiting in a 30 minute plus line to talk with a rep and turn around and walk out. Later, when I still need help and call the tech support group – and wait that same 30 minutes – I get someone ten time zones away struggling to read an English “support script” that does not address my issue, only to be told that I will need to be elevated to second level support and they will call me back in 4 hours. Or perhaps you need account billing help to get clarification on erroneous charges you have on a statement, only to be told those are not false charges but some “fee” that was not clearly disclosed at the time of purchase.

The examples go on and on, but the problem is obvious and remains unchanged – Cell providers really don’t care. Which leads us to our next point: do you think you are going somewhere?

“Help – I’m locked in.. and I can’t get out!”, of my plan that is.

Boat owners are familiar with the axiom – The “best day of your life” is both the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it! The same might very well be true of the relationship many have with their cell providers. Arguably, the single greatest factor contributing to mobile user angst these days is the discovery that you’ve been locked in. Locked in by a multi-year contract with early termination fees or the realization you posses a handset that is locked exclusively to one provider.

But these business practices should come as no surprise, as they serve the wireless companies’ best interest. By locking users into both their network and contract they mitigate subscriber churn. Considering the much heavier saturation of current US subscribers The last thing your carrier wants is for you be able to actually change or terminate service.

An Intervention is Required

So then the dye has been cast and the course certain – A federally mandated cell phone consumers bill of rights is destined to be made law? Not so fast. As with all things in politics a simple issue can quickly become clouded.

While consumers certainly have reason to be all worked up, demanding change is a good start, but what should the remedy be? Here are a few key points any Wireless Telco Act should tackle.

1. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Whether is is confusing contracts or sales/service reps that change their story depending on who you talk to – it needs to be clear, concise and concrete.

2. End phone subsides and the contracts that result. This is good for carriers, manufactures and consumers: Carriers get the cash upfront for the phone, Handset makers don’t have to sign exclusives with just one provider, and Consumers, having already paid for the phone out of pocket, are not subject to a contract or termination fees.

3. Ensure Phone portability – not just number portability. As much as possible the great divide of phone and network lockins needs to stop. If I buy a CDMA network phone from Sprint and want to switch to Verizon I should be allowed to do this. The same would be true for say AT&T and T-Mobile (Yes, I’m talking about the iPhone!)

4. Simplify Pricing/Service Options. Enough with the endless options already! Some strides are being made in this area by MVNOs like “MetroPCS” with a flat price for all that calls/txt/data you want at one price. It’s not that you can’t have tiers of service, but most consumers are just confused with billing plans and complex up charges.

It’s better to be Feared, then Loved.

I’m not sure how Machiavelli would have come down on the question of a mobile users bill of rights, but to barrow from him, his concept of using fear as a motivator might be just what wireless providers need – and that fear is being provide courtesy of pending legislation. Maybe that fear of action is just what the market needs. Let’s face it, codifying this type of legislation will take time – time that carriers have to enact positive changes.

This is the most likely outcome; Congress will stall long enough for a consortium of carriers to sign onto a self policed “Bill of Rights” – not an all bad outcome, as long as there is meaningful change in the practices as outlined above.

“I can’t hear you – must have a bad connection”

Other option is that the industry will continue to turn a deaf ear to the problem and ignore their customers. Bleak as this may sound it’s not unprecedented; look at the upheaval in the long distance market due to disruptive technologies like VOIP.

This much is certain, customers are frustrated and if action is not taken more and more will resort to “hacking” solutions like we have seen with the iPhone. But that’s a story for another column…