Saturday, October 31, 2009

Avoid Windows 7 Upgrades: Support Firm

As Microsoft struggles to fix a constant reboot problem that some people upgrading to Windows 7 are experiencing, support firm Rescuecom has recommended that consumers avoid a Windows 7 upgrade, period. Interesting, the firm also recommends avoiding PCs with Windows 7 installed, at least for now.

Josh Kaplan, president of Rescuecom said:
"From the calls we're getting, as well as our own experience in the past with all Microsoft's operating systems, we're recommending that people stick with their time-tested OS and wait for the dust to settle. There are some compelling reasons for both businesses and home users to move to Windows 7, so we're saying 'just wait for a bit.'"
The comment regarding the history of Microsoft OSes is interesting, and must make Apple happy. One of their first ads skewering Windows 7 noted how Microsoft always says their newest OS won't have the issues of their prior one(s) (watch it above).

I've already said several times: if you have Windows Vista there's little reason to upgrade your system to Windows 7. Even if you have Windows XP, there's little reason to upgrade, unless, as with me, you want to use the latest and greatest. In fact, the hassle isn't worth it.

On the other hand, if you do want to upgrade your system to Windows 7, don't bother with an in-place upgrade. In other words, do a clean install of the new OS. This is the same recommendation I made about Windows Vista vs. Windows XP, as well. A little trickery, BTW, and you can use an upgrade DVD to do a clean install of the OS, as well.

That's why I would not recommend upgrading an older machine. Doing a clean install means you have to reinstall all your programs. It also means that you'll have to back up --- and restore --- any data you want to keep. Of course, in a household like mine, most of that data is stored on network hard drives, not individual PCs, but that's not the case for most.

Microsoft also has to solve the aforementioned endless reboot problem with some PCs. There are quite a few people suffering the issue, posting on Microsoft's support sites.

While there hasn't been a solution offered by Microsoft yet, this sounds vaguely familiar. During the move to Windows Vista SP1, Microsoft warned that users who had certain driver versions could see ... endless reboots ... when trying to install Vista SP1, due to driver incompatibility.

Since these issues are only occurring with PCs that have tried to executte an in-place upgrade, it seems like a good theory to me. Of course, I could be completely off.

For now, if you want to try an in-place upgrade, make sure you image your hard drive using something like Acronis True Image. If the upgrade fails, it's easy to back out and return to your old OS by restoring your image.
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China Gets Its (Wi-Fi-Less) iPhone, And Problems

The iPhone has finally reached China, or should I say, the iPhone has finally officially reached China. There were plenty of unlocked iPhones invading China's GSM networks, but only Friday was it on the China Unicom network.

The first shipments manufactured for China Unicom, however, are missing wi-fi. It wasn't until May, after manufacturing of the device had begun, that Beijing lifted the existing wi-fi ban on devices.

This will create problems for China Unicom, which has reportedly contracted with Apple for 5 million iPhones. China Unicom hopes to have wi-fi in the next batch of iphones it receives from Apple, saying: "We are talking with Apple and expect the problem to be solved by the end of this year."

Until then, though, what? China Unicom also is at a price disadvantage: unlocked grey import iPhones (with wi-fi, no less) cost around 5,700 yuan ($835) in China’s street markets, while China Unicom charges from 4,999 yuan ($730) to 6,999 yuan ($1,025) for the high-end, 32 GB iPhone 3GS.

Hmmm. An unlocked iPhone for less money, or official iPhone, tied to one carrier, for more money. Which would you choose? To be honest, even with the wi-fi feature, the fact that the unlocked iPhone goes for less creates an issue for Apple, as well as China Unicom.

In other countries, unlocked iPhones go for more, and far more than a locked version. This backwards set-up in China may prove to be difficult to overcome.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Little Buddy Child Tracker: $99 and GPS, But Don't Forget the Recurring Fees

Best Buy has started selling the Little Buddy Child Tracker. The device is supposed to help parents track their children, and it's listed as $99. What isn't mentioned however, are the recurring fees for the service.

The Little Buddy Child Tracker uses real GPS technology to help you track your children. It's advertised as being able to alert you if your child isn't in the location he's supposed to be at a specific time. It does so by sending text messages to you.

The light bulb above my head went off when I read that. Obviously, there's some cellular connection involved with the Little Buddy Child Tracker. Also, unless they are as generous as Amazon.com is with their Kindle device, you're not going to get that for free. And since Amazon.com expects you to buy stuff with the Kindle, and that's not the case with this device, you can see they probably aren't going to be that generous.

And they're not. Although Best Buy doesn't mention the recurring fees, Insignia, maker of the Little Buddy Child Tracker, does on their site.

For unlimited service, of the type that would alert you if your child wasn't in school when he should be, the cost for the Little Buddy Child Tracker is $14.99 monthly. For per-use service, it's $0.99 per use. They aren't specific, but this sounds like a service where you could "ping" the device to see where it is.

Clearly, one problem with the whole idea is that the company claims you should slip this into your child's jacket or backpack. Kids lose backpacks and jackets all the time; hence, they are going to lose this rather expensive thing, too. The Little Buddy Child Tracker also comes in ugly blue and green colors, designed to get your child to leave it in his locker.

The problem with more "portable" types of devices than the Little Buddy Child Tracker, such as those that are similar to wristwatches, is range. There are a few like that on Amazon.com, but they are woefully bad in terms of the user reviews. The fact that this one, for example, was over $100 at first and is now in the $20s, along with really bad reviews, shows you why.

To be honest, you get what you pay for. More expensive devices like these work better. They're also pricier, but some of them have no recurring fees yet can be tracked via Google Earth. For me, I'll pass on the Little Buddy Cnild Tracker.
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Apple TV 3.0, iTunes 9.0.2 Released (Yes, It Breaks Pre Sync)

Apple has released a new version of iTunes, 9.0.2. While admittedly the release has higher aspirations than messing with the Palm Pre, such as adding support for Apple TV 3.0, a new dark background option for Grid View, and additional accessibility support, it does indeed break the Pre's iTunes sync capability, as well.

Apple TV 3.0, released earlier, adds new UI and as well as support for the iTunes Extras (movies) and iTunes LP (music) formats. From the press release:
Apple® today introduced new Apple TV® 3.0 software featuring a redesigned main menu that makes navigating your favorite content simpler and faster, and makes enjoying the largest selection of on-demand HD movie rentals and purchases, HD TV shows, music and podcasts from the iTunes® Store even better on your TV. You can now enjoy iTunes Extras and iTunes LP in stunning fullscreen with your Apple TV, as well as listen to Genius Mixes and Internet radio through your home theater system. The new Apple TV software is available immediately free of charge to existing Apple TV owners, and Apple TV with 160GB capacity is available for just $229.

The redesigned main menu on Apple TV gives you instant access to your favorite content. Recently rented or purchased movies, as well as other content including TV shows, music, podcasts, photos and YouTube, are accessible directly from the new main menu. The new software also allows Apple TV users to enjoy stunning fullscreen iTunes Extras and iTunes LP, including great new movie titles such as “Star Trek” or classics like “The Wizard of Oz” and albums such as Taylor Swift’s “Fearless (Platinum Edition)” and Jack Johnson’s “En Concert.” iTunes Extras gives movie fans great additional content such as deleted scenes, interviews and interactive galleries. iTunes LP is the next evolution of the music album, delivering a rich, immersive experience for select albums on the iTunes Store by combining beautiful design with expanded visual features like live performance videos, lyrics, artwork, liner notes, interviews, photos, album credits and more.

Now Apple TV users can enjoy Genius Mixes through their home theater system and listen to up to 12 endless mixes of songs that go great together, automatically generated from their iTunes library. Customers can also enjoy Internet radio, allowing them to browse and listen to thousands of Internet radio stations, as well as tag favorite stations to listen to later. Apple TV’s support of HD photos is enhanced with iPhoto Events, which simplifies finding your favorite photos on Apple TV, as well as iPhoto® Faces, which gives access to photos organized by people identified in iPhoto.
That's all well and good, but we know that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is most pleased with blocking Pre Sync again, as their contentious back-and-forth battle continues.
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The App Store Closes In On 100,000 Apps

According to App Shopper, a third-party site that tracks applications in Apple's App Store, while many keep using the last amount quoted by Apple (85,000) as the number of apps in that repository, the App Store is nearing 100,000 apps, and should hit that number soon.

In fact, App Shopper, which posts the numbers on their website home page, currently lists the total number of approved apps as 102,631, with 93,794 available for download (some will, of course, have fallen by the wayside as time progressed).

The last time Apple mentioned the number of apps in the App Store publicly, it said there were 85,000 apps in the store. It's believed that Apple is waiting until the number of applications available to download reaches 100,000 to issue a press release.

Another App Store tracking site, Yappler, says that of the apps available, 19,856 of them are free, if you bought every iPhone app today it would cost you $235,682, which is $2.55 per app or $3.25 if you exclude free apps.

While Verizon has been pumping the Droid up recently, its clear that its not just about the platform, or the carrier, or even the hardware, but the applications available on a device. That's where the iPhone still rules, but Gartner predicted on Tuesday that Android OS shipments will exceed iPhone OS by 2012.

The iPhone is no longer leaps and bounds above other platforms. Google's platform, free as it is, has the potential to be on many more devices than the iPhone. As application development for the devices ramps up, and it will, based on the sheer number of different devices (though some will undoubtedly be losers), it does indeed have the potential to overtake the iPhone.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

New iPhone App Translates English-to-Spanish And Back, As You Speak

A new iPhone app, Jibbigo, translates English-to-Spanish and back again, but does it without requiring the user to select phrases or enter them manually with the keyboard. Instead, you simply launch the $24.99 app and speak into your iPhone's microphone and the translation is played over the speaker.

Only on the faster iPhone 3GS is the app truly handy. With the newest of Apple's smartphones, the app can handle translating both languages simultaneously. That's nice because that's usually how a conversation happens.

With older iPhones, sadly, you have to choose a "direction" of translation when starting the app and have to back out and restart the app to reverse the translation. In other words, it's kind of lame on anything but a 3GS.

Here's how the application is described on the App Store:
Jibbigo is not a dictionary and not a phrase book, but a speech translator: You simply speak a sentence in English or Spanish into Jibbigo, and it speaks the sentence aloud in the other language, much like a personal human interpreter would. Jibbigo also shows the recognition and translation in English and Spanish as text on the app screen, so you can be sure your translation is accurate to what you spoke.

Jibbigo is bi-directional; it translates a spoken sentence from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English for a two way dialog between English and Spanish speakers (Bi-directional operation is available on 3Gs only. Older iphone models, 3G phones and iPod Touch run uni-directionally; the language direction is chosen at start-up.).

Best of all, Jibbigo runs completely on your iPhone and does not connect to remote servers via data-communication links. There are no connection delays, no roaming charges and no disconnects! That means your pocket interpreter does not disappear on you during foreign travel when you need it the most.

To use Jibbigo: simply hold down the record button and speak. Then let Jibbigo translate and speak the translation aloud. It’s really that easy.
I have to admit, this intrigues me, although not Spanish. Give me French, German, or Polish (yes, Polish; my wife is Polish) and I'm in (they are working on more languages). I have to say, though, that $25 is a little pricey for a single language.

The first step toward Star Trek's universal translator? It could be.
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Google's Music OneBox Makes Search More Melodious

Google has announced a new service, which is being rolled out slowly, as is typical of cloud-based services. It is called OneBox, and what it aims to do, in concert with Google's music search partners MySpace (and its recently acquired iLike subsidiary) and Lala, is allow users to play limited previews and full songs in their search results.

Besides iLike and Lala, OneBox results will include Pandora, Imeem, and Rhapsody when available. What you might notice is missing are results from iTunes and Amazon MP3. From their partners, it seems like Google was looking mostly for cloud-based streaming music services, although one could also guess that the omission of iTunes (and maybe Amazon MP3) is perhaps yet another indication of how hard it is to work with iTunes in terms of licensing, as Hollywood has been wont to say.

No, it probably has nothing to do with the rejection of Google Voice, it you are thinking along those lines. Here's what Google said in their blog post announcing the feature:
This feature doesn't just make search better. It also helps people discover new sources of licensed music online while helping artists to discover new generations of fans and reconnect with longtime listeners. Our users love music, and this tool introduces millions of music seekers in the U.S. to a new generation of licensed online music services, from MySpace and Lala to Pandora, imeem and Rhapsody.

Of course, this is just a first step toward making search more musical. There's a lot of music out there in the world, and in some instances, we may not return links to the song you're looking for. But by combining the strength of Google's search algorithms with our music search partners' efforts to increase the comprehensiveness of their music content, we're on track to answer more of your rhymes with the right rhythms.
Of course, as Google has said before (and often), the best search results are whatever are the best results, whether it's in the form of a video, an image, a magazine, a book, or a song.

This is just another move in that "universal search" paradigm.

Watch an introductory video on the service below:

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Verizon's Droid Phone Gets a Date, and a Price

Verizon's upcoming Droid phone, its first smartphone based on Google's Android platform, has received a date, a price, and some exciting news, as well. The date is Nov. 6th, the price is $199 (after $100 mail-in rebate), and the exciting news is that it will be the first device to have Google Maps Navigation, providing turn-by-turn voice guidance.

The Droid phone has been the subject of a heavy-duty Verizon ad campaign, including one snarky ad that points out all the things that iCan't do (meaning the iPhone can't do) that the Droid can do.

While the iPhone is obviously still the device on many people's minds, the Android platform, which started slowly on the T-Mobile G1 (and little else) is gaining rapidly, at least in terms of device announcements. The Droid phone is the first Android phone which truly has a chance to be a serious contender as an "iPhone killer."

However, the iPhone has cult status still, and 75,000 more apps (and counting) than Android does. While the iPhone is in no real danger of being "killed," but rather is a solid threat to take eventually become the most popular cell phone globally, taking market share away from Nokia and BlackBerry. The Droid phone and its upcoming Android siblings have an excellent chance of taking a a lot of market share as well.

The key is that most of these mobile platforms are now on par with Apple's iPhone. The iPhone is no longer head-and-shoulders above the pack, except in terms of numbers of applications. The Droid phone and other Android devices, and Palm's excellent but struggling webOS are solid competitors in terms of features and performance.

Watch the Droid phone ad below:

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Microsoft Retail Stores Feature "Crapware-Less" Signature PCs

"Crapware" is the term used to describe all the trial, demo, or other useless software frequently loaded on a PC when you buy it from a manufacturer such as Dell or HP. So much of it is installed that many consider such PCs as "crapped up," hence the name.

Interestingly, in their Scottsdale retail outlet, first of their new Microsoft retail stores, Microsoft has removed the crapware from the PCs on display. In a comment on a blog post from a Microsoft employee about the Scottsdale store, Jared Marino, Product Advisor from the Microsoft Store in Mission Viejo said:
You’ll notice none of the computers come with pre-installed software. This is called Microsoft Signature. Microsoft Signature PCs come with full versions of Microsoft software, pre-configured and ready to run. Great tools such as Windows Security Essentials and Windows Live etc.
Some of that I might still consider crapware, but probably not Security Essentials and Silverlight, at least.

It would be wonderful if all PCs could be ordered this way. Some manufacturers offer it as an option, but not all do.

What I found just as interesting as that was the fact that, according to the post, the Microsoft employees were engaged with people, and knowledgeable as well. The perception that Apple products are superior, though pricier, is something that the stores are an obvious attempt to change. Knowledgeable, helpful, and engaging retail employees are a necessity to do that.

Watch the retail store ribbon-cutting:

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Los Angeles Signs $7.2 Million Deal for Google Apps

On Tuesday, Los Angeles agreed to enter the cloud, as it signed a $7.2 million deal to use Google Apps for its 30,000 employees. The competition for the contract was nearly a year in length, with Google facing down rival Microsoft, among others.

Fearing a cascade effect if the Los Angeles transition is successful, Microsoft sent executives and paid advocates to Los Angeles to make the case against Google. If Google Apps prove successful in LA, it will prove Google's cloud based system can handle a monumental challenge.

Los Angeles thus joins the District of Columbia as one of the largest government adopters of Google Apps.

Acceptance of the contract is still tentative. It is contingent on integration provider Computer Sciences Corporation agreeing to pay a penalty in the event of a security breach. Security was a major concern in the discussions over the contract, which calls for moving from the city's systems from Novell to Google Apps, which includes an office suite as well as email.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Google Voice Adds "Voicemail Portability"

It's been long suspected that eventually Google will begin offering number portability with its Google Voice service. Today the company announced "baby steps" in that direction, with "voicemail portability."

What this means is, rather than using a Google Voice-supplied number, you can link your existing mobile number to the service. While you lose a lot of the features you might get with a Google Voice-supplied number you don't have to tell everyone you've changed things.

That would be the beauty of number portability with Google Voice. Most consumers are aware of number portability with regards to wireless carriers: you can port your number when you move from one carrier to another. If you could do that with Google Voice, you would get the full benefit of the service while not having to tell everyone to change their contact info. Naturally, you'd need a different number for your mobile phone.

What you lose with the new system, as opposed to a Google Voice-supplied number, is:
  • One number that reaches you on all your phones
  • SMS via email
  • Call screening
  • Listen In
  • Call recording
  • Conference calling
  • Call blocking
What you gain by using the service (vs. regular voicemail) is:
  • Online, searchable voicemail
  • Free automated voicemail transcription
  • Custom voicemail greetings for different callers
  • Email and SMS notifications
  • Low-priced international calling
The following carriers are currently supported: Alltel, AT&T, Cricket Wireless, MetroPCS, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Essentially, you’re providing access to your regular voicemail to the Google Voice transcription and notification system. If you already use Google Voice, you can add Google Voicemail to any mobile phone linked to your account.

Of course, the big negative is that the service is invite-only. You can request an invitation here, or if you're lucky, get an invite from a friend.

Watch a video, if you're still confused:

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Family Guy Loses Microsoft Sponsorship

Family Guy has been dumped by Microsoft. After deciding the content of the show "Family Guy Presents: Seth and Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show," scheduled (and heavily advertised by Fox) to air Nov. 8th, is too raunchy, Microsoft decided to drop its sponsorship of the show.

In a statement, Microsoft said:
"We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of Family Guy, but after reviewing an early version of the variety show it became clear that the content was not a fit with the Windows brand. We continue to have a good partnership with FOX, Seth MacFarlane and Alex Borstein and are working with them in other areas. We continue to believe in the value of brand integrations and partnerships between brands, media companies and talent."
I call it: wimping out.

Yes, Family Guy and any humor by its creator, Seth MacFarlane is definitely on the un-PC side, but still. Apparently the show is still looking for a corporate sponsor. Since stodgy old Microsoft wimped out, may I suggest cool, cultish Apple?
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Faster Way to a Clean Windows 7 Install With Upgrade Media

Microsoft has gone through great lengths to make a clean install with upgrade media a pain. In fact, they say you can't do it, although they said the same thing about Windows Vista and there was a way around that. There's also a way around 7's restriction as well, and a faster one than on Windows Vista.

Why should you be able to do a clean, meaning "from scratch" install with an upgrade DVD? I might ask, why not? As long as you can prove you owned a valid copy of a qualifying version, in the form of either an activation key or a valid media, it seems fair. However, that sort of "deal" ended with Windows XP.

Windows Vista required you to basically install the OS twice, to get a clean install with upgrade media. I can attest to the fact that it worked.

For Windows 7, Paul Thurrott has discovered a way to cut some of the time off a clean install with upgrade media. Although the old "double install" trick should work, this saves you a ton of time. Here's how it works:
  • Do a clean install.
  • Ensure that there are no Windows Updates pending that would require a system reboot. (You'll see an orange shield icon next to Shutdown in the Start Menu if this is the case).
  • Edit the registry with regedit.exe. Navigate to: HKLM/Software/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Setup/OOBE/
  • Change MediaBootInstall from "1" to "0".
  • Open the Start Menu again and type cmd to display a shortcut to the Command Line utility. Right-click this shortcut and choose "Run as administrator." Handle the UAC prompt, if any.
  • In the command prompt window, type: slmgr /rearm [ENTER]
  • Reboot.
  • When Windows 7 reboots, run the Activate Windows utility, type in your product key and activate Windows. You are now gold.
Although may would say, why not just upgrade, I recommend a clean install. It's the best way to start your system off with a brand new OS anyway. Why leave around all the dross of your former installation?
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Microsoft Tool Eases Netbook Upgrades to Windows 7

Microsoft previously announced (or rather, trumpeted) that unlike Windows Vista, Windows 7 would run just fine on a netbook, thank you. But what about the fact that most netbooks are DVD-less? Well, there's an app for that, to steal a line from Apple.

Microsoft has released the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. This tool will allow you to take the ISO image for your Windows 7 install, and turn it into a bootable flash drive image.

Once that's done, the netbook's BIOS must also be modified to set the boot order so that the USB drive is first on the list. It's pretty simple to be honest.

Just remember that, according to Microsoft's site, this isn't a general purpose tool designed to turn any ISO into a bootable flash drive image. While we haven't tried it ourself, Microsoft is pretty clear that this can only be used with a Windows 7 ISO. Of course, we've heard that kind of "certainty" before.
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Sprint to Launch Palm Pixi on Nov. 15th

The Palm Pixi, the smaller and cheaper sibling of the Palm Pre now has a price and a launch date. The price of the new phone will be $99 (with the requisite two-year service agreement) and the launch date will be Nov. 15th, in plenty of time for the holidays.

Both Palm and Sprint had spoken about the device previously, but had been vague about these (important) details. The Pixi appears to have either a Centro-ish or perhaps Palm Treo Pro-ish keyboard, and will have a smaller screen than the Pre, and will be lacking wi-fi.

The targeted audience (the tons of Centro users out there) is obvious, but whether or not it draws a crowd during the holiday shopping season remains to be seen.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Intel Releases TRIM-Enabling Firmware for Its Second-Gen SSDs

As promised, Intel has released firmware for its second-generation 34nm solid-state drives (SSDs). TRIM is a feature of Windows 7 (and of course, that OS just launched) that will (hopefully) prevent SSDs from seeing performance degradation over time.

At the same time, the new firmware (02HA) gives Intel 160 GB SSDs a boost in write speed. Intel says: "the firmware update also offers a performance boost to sequential write speeds by delivering up to 100MB per second, a 40 percent performance improvement over the existing firmware version." The firmware is provided via a bootable ISO image that you burn to a CD and then boot the system with.

Intel is also providing an SSD Toolbox. The SSD Toolbox will enable users of non-TRIM supporting OSes such as XP and Vista to run TRIM manually, or even schedule it daily.

Here's what Intel said in their press release:
On the heels of the Microsoft* Windows* 7 introduction, Intel Corporation today announced the availability of the Intel® Solid-State Drive (SSD) Toolbox, with Intel® SSD Optimizer and firmware update, for its 34nm Intel® X25-M Mainstream SATA SSDs. The latest tools are designed to help better manage and retain the out-of-box performance of Intel SSDs.

An SSD is built to replace a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) with added performance, lower power consumption and higher reliability. The Intel SSD Toolbox allows users to more effectively monitor and manage the SSD’s health. The firmware upgrade and Intel SSD Optimizer use the Windows* 7 ATA Data Set Management Command (known as Trim) to help keep the Intel SSD running at continued high performance. In addition, the SSD Toolbox and Optimizer also allow the respective enhancements to work with Windows* XP and Vista* operating systems. [...]

The Intel SSD Toolbox provides SSD management tools and information about the drive, including comparing Self-Monitoring and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) drive attributes to manufacturer threshold. It provides basic and full diagnostics, along with recommended actions. The Toolbox also features an easy-to-use graphical user interface that will allow end users to schedule and run the Trim command independent of the operating system. The company recommends users install the firmware update and toolbox, and run the Trim function daily to ensure best performance. The firmware upgrade can be found at www.intel.com/go/ssdfirmware and the Intel SSD Toolbox and Optimizer at www.intel.com/go/ssdtoolbox.
Of course, as with anything like this, the firmware upgrade is at your own risk. Intel warns you might lose data, but personally, I haven't seen this problem with an Intel firmware update. Your mileage may vary, however.

Also, remember that to see the benefits of TRIM, you need to have your SATA controller set to AHCI mode, in Windows 7. You also need to set that mode in your BIOS prior to your Windows 7 install. Otherwise, you'll have to use this workaround from Microsoft. It's a registry edit, so for people already mucking around with a firmware upgrade, it's probably not a daunting task.
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T-Mobile Android Ad Boosts Old iPhone App Sales

A recent T-Mobile Android ad accidentally boosted sales of an older, already existing iPhone application. Yes, it seems like no matter what, there's already an app for that.

The application, iFog, debuted Dec. 24th of last year. While it sold 200,000 copies at $0.99 a pop, since its first initial surge of interest, it's become a more modest 250 per week seller. That is, until recently.

iFog works by taking a photo which the user selects and superimposing a steam effect superimposed on it. The steam can be wiped away by running a finger over the screen surface, much like you might do with a mirror. Blowing on the iPhone microphone fogs the screen up again.

For some reason, iFog saw a recent doubling of sales. Stumped at first, the developers were clued into what happened when friend talked about an iFog TV commercial.

Of course, there was no such iFog TV commercial. What the friend had seen was a T-Mobile myTouch commercial (below) with none other than Dana Carvey seen with a knock-off of iFog made for Android. Hey, they should have known: there was already an app for that.

Watch the video.

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Seeking Simplicity, Cellphone Refuseniks Complicate Their Lives

Cellphone refuseniks, those who, despite the example of rest of us, simply refuse to use cellphones, are dwindling in number, according to a New York Times report. Despite this, those still in that group seem as stubborn as ever.

Of course, the original term "refusenik" was an unofficial term applied to individuals, typically, but not exclusively, Soviet Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate abroad by authorities of the former U.S.S.R. and other Eastern bloc countries. Since then, the term has become commonly used for protesters in general.

While many of these cellphone refuseniks aim to simplify their lives by having some level of privacy and some degree of control over who can contact them when, their moral stance makes their lives more complex, as well as complicating the lives of their friends and family.

An example, from the NYT story, is that of Linda Mboya, 32, a resident of Brooklyn.

A friend who lives on the top floor of a house in Brooklyn has an apartment buzzer that's almost always broken. Most people would simply call using their cellphone to announce their arrival. Instead, Mboya makes noise to disturb the dogs who live on the first floor, who then bark and alert her friend. Works well, except what if the family with the dogs moves?

The lack of a cellphone means spontaneity in terms of get-togethers is pretty much unheard of for Mboya. And, it annoys her friends, who feel all the pre-planning is unnecessary and exhausting. Sheila Shirazi, one of Mboya's friends, said:
“I can only do that periodically. I don’t have the time and energy to coordinate to the extent it takes with somebody who isn’t mobile. It’s just not something I’m used to.”
It would be more understandable if these refuseniks simply couldn't afford a cellphonee, but for many, it's a moral issue.

Closer to home, I know someone who won't get a cellphone, despite the fact that she drives a pretty unreliable car. It last broke down in the middle of the freeway, and she had to hike to one of the roadside emergency phones. Not a big deal for an adult, but what if she had been traveling with her grandchild?

The reason this person does not want a cellphone: she doesn't want her husband to be able to constantly check on her. To be honest, this is why many workers feel they have no life outside work any longer. Many are given work cellphones, with email plans on them, and are expected to be 100% reachable at all times. Some refuseniks eschew cellphones for that reason.

However, for a grandmother to refuse to carry a cellphone and still want permission to take her grandchild in an unreliable car for a day trip? That's a lot to ask of the child's parents. The hope, and expectation of the parents: when the girl gets old enough to get a cellphone of her own, she'll probably guilt and embarrass grandma into getting one.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Users Having Problems With Windows 7 Student Upgrades

The first SNAFU to show up on Windows 7, and it's not even an issue with the software, or even Microsoft. Rather, it's an issue with the installation package provided by Digital River for the nicely discounted student upgrade package that Microsoft has been offering at Win741.com.

Now, Digital River is not small potatoes when it comes to digital distribution of software, so it's amazing this sort of fiasco has happened. Instead of delivering a simple .ISO image that could be burned to a DVD, students receive an .EXE file that must be run to decompress two .BOX files. That's where the issue lies.

When trying to "Unload the Box" as the step is called, those trying to upgrade from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit version of Windows 7 receive the error message ‘We are unable to create or save new files in the folder in which this application was downloaded.”

Microsoft has acknowledged the issue, saying:
Microsoft is aware that users who ordered the 64-bit Version of Windows 7 through the Windows 7 Student Offer and did not order the DVD Backup Media may have difficulty installing if their current operating system is running a 32-bit version of Windows such as Windows XP. Users who have encountered this difficulty should contact Digital River using the Customer Support link at the bottom of the page http://windows7.digitalriver.com/store/mswpus/help for possible solutions that would allow you to install Windows 7.
Naturally, it would have been much simpler if Microsoft / Digital River had simply supplied an ISO image. Ah, but it is possible to convert what Digital River delivered into such an ISO image. The problem is, that's only after you've gotten around the issue above. Assuming you have, you will end up with a folder called expandedSetup. Store that at your root directory (c:\) to make things easier.

Then, you'll need a tool from Microsoft. OSCDIMG is a tool included with the Windows Automated Installation kit (but that whole kit is nearly a GB in size). Download OSCDIMG.zip from here. Extract the contents of the file to your c:\Windows\System32 directory (or whatever amounts to that on your PC).

Next, open an "elevated" command prompt. To do this, in Vista you select Start, then Run, then type "cmd" and hit CTRL-SHIFT-ENTER. In XP, just type 'cmd' into the same Run dialog.

Then type the following into your command prompt (this assumes the expandedSetup folder is at the root, or c:\, as I suggested):
oscdimg.exe –u2 –b"C:\expandedSetup\boot\etfsboot.com" –h "C:\expandedSetup" C:\Windows7.ISO
You will end up with a Windows7.ISO file in your root (C:\) directory that you can then burn using a variety of methods. Then all you need to do is install it, which is another issue entirely.
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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Amazon.com Announces PC Kindle Software

It's been a while in coming, but Amazon.com has released an application for Windows PCs that allows downloading and reading Kindle books on your computer. The application will even allow bookmarking and through Amazon’s Whispersync technology, sync across all Amazon.com's Kindle apps, whether on your iPhone / iPod touch or Kindle itself.

This sort of read anywhere (Kindle-wise) and have everything synced up between your Kindle apps / devices has been something Amazon.com has been emphasizing as an advantage since it came out with multiple ways to access Kindle e-books. It's something it needs to continue to emphasize as a selling point with the iPhone app already available.

For those who eschew Windows for the Mac, there will be a Mac version as well, but it will come at an unconfirmed later date. The Windows app will be released as a free download in November, the company said in a press release, and has Windows Touch technology for Windows 7 users.

Here's what Amazon.com's press release said about the PC version's features:
With Kindle for PC, readers can take advantage of the following features:
  • Purchase, download, and read hundreds of thousands of books available in the Kindle Store
  • Access their entire library of previously purchased Kindle books stored on Amazon’s servers for free
  • Choose from over 10 different font sizes and adjust words per line
  • Add and automatically synchronize bookmarks and last page read
  • View notes and highlights marked on Kindle and Kindle DX
  • Zoom in and out of text with a pinch of the fingers (Windows 7 users only)
  • Turn pages with a finger swipe (available in a future release for Windows 7 users)
With desktop Kindle software, users can finally buy and read books from Amazon's Kindle library without additional hardware. Well, except for a PC, which, if you're reading this, you probably own. And if you really, really wanted to, and you have an appropriate laptop, you could hook your laptop up to a big-screen TV and read your Kindle books there, too.
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Happy Eighth Birthday, iPod

Where were you on Oct. 23, 2001? That was the day that Apple introduced the product that changed the company from an also-ran into a company whose every move is watched. That was the day Apple introduced the iPod.

In fact, things have turned around so much for Apple that not only is the company watched, its CEO is watched. The mere hint of an illness on the part of Steve Jobs sends the stock into a tailspin.

The first iPod was hard-drive based, had 10 hours of battery life, a FireWire port, and 5GB of storage, all for $399. Let's not forget, it was Mac-compatible only. Ouch!

How times have changed. Now the snazziest iPods are basically iPhones without the cellular connection, they use flash RAM-based storage in many of their versions, and include video cameras as more.

The iPod, and iTunes, and the infrastructure it built, along with missteps on the part of Microsoft, has brought Apple back from what some called the brink. Imagine what riches one might have if you'd bought Apple stock during those downtimes. On Oct. 23rd, 2001, AAPL closed at $9.07 a share.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Already? Apple Skewers Windows 7 With New Ads

Apple isn't wasting any time. It's only been two days, and already they have "Get a Mac" ad all ready to blast Microsoft's just released OS, Windows 7. Naturally, they waited until after the OS was released to spring these on us.

There are three, count 'em, three ads.

The first is “Broken Promises." It's a series of flashbacks to promises made by earlier versions of Windows. Basically, it is a series of "It's not going to have any of the problems that Windows blah had" vignettes.


Then there's "Teeter Tottering." That shows a Windows user switching from Windows XP. The "big move," as she called it, is not to Windows 7, but over to the Mac. “I could stick with what I know, but what I know is pain and frustration.”


The final ad is "PC News," with PC talking to a reporter at the Windows 7 launch. Unfortunately, the feed from the launch showed many getting ready to upgrade, but once again, to a Mac.

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Psystar To Sell Software Enabling MacOS Installation On Generic Intel Hardware

Psystar, obviously not satisfied with the hot water is already in with Apple, has announced it will begin selling the software it itself uses to install the Mac OS X operating system on generic Intel hardware. According to company, the software, called the "Rebel EFI suite," allows users to easily install any OS on a computer.

Psystar has already been sued by Apple over selling Mac clones, with Mac OS X pre-installed on the computers. Apple says that doing so violates the EULA for Mac OS X, which says:
"You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so."
which is a pretty straight-forward and simple statement. Still, to this point, Psystar has remained defiant. A trial date has been set for January 11, 2010.

According to the company, the software is compatible with the following CPUs: Intel Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, i7 or Xeon Nehalem. Sorry, AMD.

Psystar has a demo version of the software available for download. Users can install Mac OS X, but with "limited hardware functionality as compared with the full version." The full version of the Rebel EFI suite, removing any hardware limitations, costs $49.99, which would be pretty reasonable, if it works.

Psystar says that its software, through the use of the Darwin Universal Boot Loader, which available in the full version of the Rebel EFI Suite, will allow installing and running multiple operating systems, including Windows 7 as well as XP, Vista, various Linux flavors and OS X Snow Leopard.

There's reason to assume that it does work, considering that Psystar says this is the very software it uses itself to install Mac OS X on its Intel-based hardware. Of course, one difference between Macs and PCs is the wide variety of hardware available on PCs. That's what makes Windows impressive, despite its criticisms; while Mac OS X is great, it only has to support a limited amout of hardware, and that's far easier than what Microsoft has to do.

Given that, Psystar also announced the Psystar Labs approval program.

Users who are having difficulties getting a specific device to work correctly on their machines would send in their component to have it certified. The most common hardware set-ups are compatible, and through PsyLabs we will continue to work toward the Rebel EFI supporting an ever-broader range of hardware profiles.
One has to wonder how long past January 2010, given the trial date, these Labs will be running.
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Nokia Sues Apple Over iPhone Patent Infringement

Nokia announcee on Thursday that it has sued Apple over GSM, UMTS and WLAN patents, alleging that ten aspects of iPhones shipped since 2007 (i.e., all of them) infringe on Nokia's patents. This ought to be fun; Nokia certainly has the money to keep a lawsuit going, even against "deep pockets" such as Apple has.

According to a press release issued by Nokia,
The ten patents in suit relate to technologies fundamental to making devices which are compatible with one or more of the GSM, UMTS (3G WCDMA) and wireless LAN standards. The patents cover wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption and are infringed by all Apple iPhone models shipped since the iPhone was introduced in 2007.

The basic principle in the mobile industry is that those companies who contribute in technology development to establish standards create intellectual property, which others then need to compensate for. Apple is also expected to follow this principle. By refusing to agree appropriate terms for Nokia’s intellectual property, Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia’s innovation.
It should be an interesting fight. Nokia is the world's largest cell phone manufacturer. However, Apple is the maker the most popular cell phone in the world.
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Amazon.com Merges U.S., International Kindles; Lowers Price

In what is an obvious move to match the price of the newly announced Barnes & Noble nook, Amazon.com has lowered the price of the U.S. / International Kindle 2 to $259. This is, coincidentally, the same price as the nook, which previously undercut Amazon.com's GSM Kindle model.

The previously lower-priced CDMA (translstion, Sprint and U.S. only) model is now gone. The larger-screened Kindle DX, however, still restricted to Sprint, remains.

This all makes sense, with or without the nook. With only a $20 difference between the AT&T International model and the Sprint U.S. version, there was little reason for consumers to buy the Sprint model.

Those who already paid $279 for their AT&T Kindles needn't worry. Amazon.com is going to send you a refund, automatically. Nothing like a little competition to ensure good customer support, right?
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