Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Price, Convenience?

What is technology, after all?  Let's break it down to its simplest.  I think technology falls into one of two categories:
1.  New capabilities we didn't have before, such as breathing underwater or in space, or flying.
2.  Convenience - doing things we always have done, but faster with less work.

There might possibly be a third category, that of entertainment, but I need to think more on it - perhaps it is some shading or blending of the other 2.

Most of the technology out there is of the second.  Truly innovative and creative inventions can achieve the first - but they are few and far between.

In America, as in many other countries allowing some form of "free" enterprise, people are incented to develop new products and services - and hunt for markets for them - whether or not they really provide true benefit.

That begs the question about what is meant by "true benefit?"  I would argue this is something that is generally agreed as a benefit, with little or no negative effects.  DDT had a benefit, but the negative effects I would argue vastly outweighed, and gave it a net negative impact on our lives.  So true benefit is something where the net impact is largely positive, that is to say the negative side is very small.

This balance of net effect can change over time, and change as the technology evolves.  For example, when Mr. Bell invented the telephone, the negative side effects were relatively minor - unsightly wires strung up on poles everywhere, and perhaps some exposure to electrical radiative energy.  With cellular phone technology, this can be argued to be a larger negative effect - larger amounts of radiation, and social impact of being able to be always reachable means it is hard not to interrupt socially important interactions for the call of the moment.

Let's look at the microwave oven.  What are the negative effects of this?  Many argue radiation exposure, many argue that the way it cooks the food, it destroys much of the nutrient value of the food.  I would add that we also have what I like to call the "microwave effect."

The Microwave Effect is an increased social expectation of instant gratification.  I would associate this with
  • A shorter attention span
  • Less patience (as we all know is a virtue!)
  • Less planning and therefore less wisdom
  • An "addiction" to convenience
  • Removal from a "connectedness" to the source of our products and the process of using them
With the microwave oven,  not only is our food heated unevenly (which I always hated), and the nutrient value damaged, but we expect dishes to take less time to prepare.  "What, you seriously expect me to cook something that takes 30 minutes to make?"  (Come on, 30 minutes is too long??)  It takes less planning - if it is frozen, you can still throw it in, so you don't have to think ahead.  Thinking and consciously participating in our own lives is what makes us alive - rather than just floating from event to event or neurotically, anxiously keeping some hectic schedule.

This addiction to convenience removes us from the source of the food - did the food come from somewhere nearby, or halfway around the world?  Or more likely, did portions of the meal come from multiple countries spread around the globe?  What is the cost of this?  In time, energy, fuel?  What is the cost of putting the decision of our food sources in some corporate executive's hands, while the farmers in our own back yard are struggling to pay their bills, let alone buy the product your company makes?

However, the Microwave Effect is not just limited to microwave ovens - hence the name.  One could perhaps argue that personal vehicles may have some of it, or the plethora of specialty TV stations.

Whenever we use technology, I would challenge you - think about the lesser-known negative impacts.  Where was it made - and do you want your money going to them?  How was it made - were they environmentally conscious?  Was the packaging outrageously excessive, so that something you use once (to get the product from the factory to you) get thrown out, to last in a landfill for over 1,000 years?

Does this technology give a "true benefit?"  That is, not only is the net benefit good, but is the negative impact small?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Windows 7 - I'm a PC!

Folks, I've been using Windows 7 for a couple of months now, and I have to say - I am not impressed.  The biggest 3 things Microsoft did with Windows 7 were:
  • Fix the stability issues introduced in Vista (seems like every other release of Windows is inherently unstable)
  • Pretty up the interface - a lot of graphical enhancements with very little real benefit
  • Completely move around all of the administrative functions, just to shake things up and make sure that the "experts" have to relearn it, while the "average joe" suffers and calls on the experts more
First, let's look at the "fixes" on stability.

Shoring up the House of Cards
We all know the score, especially those of use who have been using it since the first viable version (3.0).  Windows for Workgroups, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Vista - all these versions were, let's face it, unacceptable for customers paying for a product.

Windows 2000 introduced the first version of Windows where I didn't have to reboot daily, and could still use it.  Bravo.  Windows XP was, actually, an improvement on 2000.

So, we all are aware of the egg-in-the-face that was Vista.  Those of us who sprang for machines with Vista on it were burned, first by the operating system, and second by moving to 64-bit without waiting the requisite 5 years before stable drivers and software came out.

Now that Windows 7 is out, what's so great about it you ask?  Well, remember Vista?  Microsoft never admitted how bad it was, but they took a beating against the Mac and other Unix-based machines.  They know it, so they changed up the naming convention again (marketing ploys do work against the masses).  Enter Windows 7 - basically Windows XP with the Vista interface.

Except how good was XP really?  It's Windows - crashes periodically (once a week or every few weeks), slows down the longer you use it, you know the drill.  Kind of makes us wonder, why do we pay Microsoft for this stuff anyway?  With that said, it was the most stable version of Windows workstation yet.

Well, Windows 7 returns us to the XP days of stability - with all those fancy special effects and completely rearranged interface.

Wow, it's Pretty!
One thing Microsoft has always done well is designing graphics - icons, pictures, menus, and user interfaces.  Aside from the marketing thing.  They know a good looking vehicle sells better than the rust bucket, even if the good looking one barely runs and can't go above 50 on the freeway.  Especially if it's popular.

I have to admit, the styling is really nice, although the default window translucency is really really annoying.  A few features they introduced make it a bit more usable, but barely.

First, is the drag-window-and-snap-to-screen.  You drag a window to one edge or another, and it snaps to take up that portion of the screen.  Big deal, it's not that great.

Second, multi-touch gestures on touchpads.  Remember my article about the Mac?  Apple knows how to do things right - the 2-fingered swipe to scroll, brilliant.  So brilliant, Windows now offers this, but it is, as all things Windows, jerky scrolling and works moderately at best.  Often times it scrolls too fast, or not at all, and is actually more frustrating than the old swipe in a reserved edge of the pad.

Lots of animations in previously non-animated things, but the Start menu is really annoying.  Before when you hit Start and started typing letters, it would jump down to those choices.  Now it does a search - perhaps useful, perhaps an innovation I'll grant them.  I find it annoying, I hope there's a way to turn it off.

Administrative Confusion
In their never-ending quest to mix it up, Microsoft has again completely reorganized the administrative interface.  That is, the Control Panel, all the little things in Windows you do to control the inner workings (services, scheduled tasks, etc.), even the installation and uninstallation of software.  Just when things were stable from Windows 95 through XP, they went and pulled out the rug from under our feet.

What about the average Joe?  Probably doesn't spend too much time on these things, so doesn't care.  If you are a tinkerer, it would just piss you off.  If you were an expert?  You just gut it up and learn.  The more gullible ones probably pay for training on it - like you need it?  Us poor folks use Google a lot (I avoid Bing like the plague!), and good old-fashioned hunting around.

What about searching in Windows Explorer?  In older Windows, you could avoid the Windows Search 4.0 installation and thus have a useful file search.  Nowadays?  No 2 ways about it, you have this simple (and dumb) search field in the upper right corner.  How do you specify dates, how do you search contents of files?  Yeah, it's dumb.  There is a drop-down when you start typing, you can add a date or file size modifier - that's it.  Haven't figured out how to search file contents yet - unless you use Google Desktop.

Ever wonder why there's no Google Desktop for Mac?  Because Spotlight is built into the Mac, and does all that for you.

I'm a PC, and Windows is Mine
So, if like me, you're not buying this massive advertising campaign, I say my money's going to Apple.  I never cared much for the first generations of Mac, but as of OS X (that's OS 10 for the layman), form and function unite in a perfect synergy - one that all the might of Microsoft still can't even come close to touching.  Thanks to Windows 7 I came up with a new abbreviation - SOSDV (same old stuff, different version).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Whatever happened to the Turbo button?

Does anyone remember the Turbo button they used to have on PC's?  Did they ever really do anything?  I used to sit there in front of the machine and press it so the light goes on, then press it again so the light goes off, but never noticed any difference in speed.

Of course, today's computers are leaps and bounds faster than the old ones.  (Well, aren't they?  So "they" tell us, but why is it the machines seem so slow after only a few months?)  They don't really need a Turbo button.

But wait!!  Like I said, I never really noticed that the Turbo button ever did anything anyway - except that it made me feel like I was doing something during that frustrating period when I'm waiting for that darned machine to finish what should have taken half the time.  You know, kind of like if you keep pushing the call button for the elevator even though it is 5 floors above you, makes you feel like it is descending faster after you push it.

Is it only me, or do you all wish there was a Turbo button on the PC?  Yes, even though it doesn't really do anything, at least you get the satisfaction of feeling like you did something - the turbo light is on, I am in high gear, and going as fast as the machine can - if I want I can turn it off and then it has an excuse for why it is so slow.

So, PC manufacturers out there, let's put the Turbo back into the PC!  (Or at least the button.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Experiences with iPhone Problems and Updates

I have an iPhone 3G.  That's right, it's not the latest in technology, but I love it nonetheless.  And I have another year on my contract.

Recently Apple released the iOS 4, the update to support the iPhone 4 functionality, as well as to deploy newer functionality to the older phones.  I happily spent the several hours updating my phone from iOS 3 to 4 a few weeks ago, but was dismayed to discover a few problems.  I wanted to share my experiences with you, in case you are a fellow Apple customer struggling with issues like these, or in case you are considering getting an iPhone.

First, let me say I have become a huge Apple fan over the past year.  Second, I should also caution you that I think the iPhone is the cat's meow when it comes to smart phones.  I have seen and used many others.  While I like and can understand the desire for features like standard USB interfaces, ability to add SD cards, and other such open technologies (Flash, etc.), I think there are several things that have to be of primary consideration and put all the others into perspective.

First, is the device usability.  Does it perform the functions for which you got it, does it do it well, and does it do it in a way that is easy to understand and learn?  Better yet, is it so intuitive that you don't have to learn?  The iPhone shines in all these regards - there is very little that I have to learn from a user perspective.  It just works, and it works well.

Now, with the iOS 4 update.  When I upgraded my phone from 3 to 4, that must have been a major upgrade because it did a complete backup, complete phone wipe, and complete reinstall / restore.  It took a long time.  When all was said and done, there were several new features I found quite attractive - especially the ability to drag icons and drop them on top of each other to create folders.  I went from 4 pages of apps down to 1, and it made apps accessible by at most 2 taps, no drags.  Literally and figuratively, no drag, man!

However, the first problem I noticed was the phone experienced may performance drags (OK, so some drag).  Standard operations like unlocking the phone from standby or launching apps got really slow.  Many apps started crashing, even the built in ones.  It was frustrating.

I called AppleCare.  Now when it comes to customer service, call centers, follow-up and such, Apple is probably an organization that could teach classes on how to do it right.  (Do they?)  Of course they answered my questions, and practically before I hung up they had sent out an e-mail follow-up (a personalized one, not just a computer-generated one) that asked for my opinion.  First-rate!

The next week, iOS 4.0.1 came out, and this addressed much of my stability issues.  However, there were some lingering performance problems - like when I try to unlock the phone, the unlock slider would hang the first time I try, and then work the next time I awaken the phone out of standby.  Intermittent slowdowns when launching apps or doing things, etc.

Well, I bided my time, and I only had to wait another 2 weeks until 4.0.2 came out.  Voila!  The phone is back to perfect, in fact it is better than before - bigger faster stronger (well at least the faster part).

Now, I don't know about you, but I expect there may be issues with any product.  Having made a few things myself over the years (things I built, software I wrote, etc.) I know unintended problems crop up.  All I ask of any company is that they stand behind their products with genuine friendly customer service - and strive to help us solve the problem without trying to sell us more than what we need.  Apple way exceeds that expectation.  As far as I'm concerned, I don't care what other smart phones come out on the market, I'm sticking with iPhone and probably with AT&T - because Apple and AT&T have helped me many times thoroughout the years, especially when Cellular One, Nextel, and Sprint have screwed me over.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ford and Microsoft SYNC

While traveling this week, I had the pleasure of driving a new Ford Focus equipped with a Microsoft SYNC stereo system.  This technology has been on the road for a little while, I think a couple of years now, so I thought it would be a good chance to give it a drive, so to speak.  I'll describe the experience, then sum it up with a review of the products.

About Microsoft SYNC
My family has been avid viewers of American Idol for years now.  Of course, there are a plethora of ads for Coca Cola, AT&T, and Ford, the cornerstone sponsors of the show.  (Well, at least we give our money to one of those sponsors.)  I believe that most Ford vehicles now offer Microsoft SYNC as an option.

First, let me explain what SYNC is.  Built into your stereo is technology to integrate with various communications and entertainment devices.  I've had my iPhone 3G for most of a year now, and am a huge fan.  With SYNC, there are plugs in the dashboard that allow you to plug in a device like my
iPhone, an iPod or media player, and it also supports Bluetooth wireless technology.

So, what can you do?  There are 2 plugs of interest: the Line In, which is a normal 1/8 inch audio jack, and the USB plug (a standard Type B flat connector).  The first thing you can do, is to plug your device in.  If it does not support USB (or SYNC doesn't support it via USB), then you can simply plug the Line In and listen to your music over the stereo.  And boy, those speakers ROCK in the Ford Premium Sound System!  Excellent reproduction, fantastic full-bodied
sound from bass to the high end.

Using the USB plug (which also charges the iPod/iPhone/iPad), you get even better integration.  SYNC reads your music library, and "indexes" it.  Then, while playing, you can see information about the track displayed in the digital readout on the stereo, your choice any two lines of song title, artist, genre, album, etc.  And, oh yes, you can still use all your other apps while the music is playing.

Controls built into the steering wheel allow you to adjust volume, skip forward and backward tracks in the playlist, and push a button to make it listen to voice commands.  Now, if only they have such a button for the kids, they would really make a mint!

However, the really cool feature of SYNC is the voice commands.  Push the Listen button on the steering wheel, and you just talk.  A few simple commands like "Play Track", "Play Artist", "USB", or "Play All" have it switch to USB, or play specific music from your library without taking your eyes off the road.

With the Bluetooth wireless, you can connect any Bluetooth phone, and have hands-free phone conversations (that of course mute the stereo, and pause your music if it is playing from your iPod).
Alternatively, you don't have to connect your toy with a plug - you can  listen to the sound by pairing the Bluetooth to the stereo, and hear it from a Bluetooth stream.  However, you don't get the track info
displayed on the display, and you can't push the pause button on the stereo and have it pause the music.

About My Experiences
Let me say right off, it is a cool idea - and a good use of technology.  However, I have to say I was sorely disappointed.  First, about the car.  The Fusion is more my style, but the Focus is a very good car.  Nice comfy leather seats (the car rental company didn't skimp on this one!), handles great, and the trunk is unbelievably gigantic for a small car.  This is really nice - there's a good reason why Ford is paying down their debts now.  I like the Taurus, Focus, and Fusion, I can get the appeal of the Lincolns and the newly redesigned Fiesta is cool.  Another big thing for me is turning radius, Focus has that.  Good fuel economy, and decent power in the engine (Fusion is better, and Taurus is best).

On Monday I got into the car from the car rental lot, and hooked my iPhone up with glee.  The stereo spoke to me, said it recognized a new device, the iPhone, and that 911 enhanced assistance was not
configured.  OK, I can live with that.

Then, the display said "Indexing", with the infamous progress bar.  Not the one that creeps to the right and is done, no, the one that keeps starting over, indefinitely scrolling from left to right and over again.

So, I pushed the iPod app on my phone, and it said it was connected to an external device, and had no controls to start the music.  OK, how about the stereo?  I pushed the Play button, and nothing happened.  Ah!  Voice commands.

Push the button, the little lady says "Please speak your command."  Of course I can speak "Help" and it takes me through a spoken menu.  I notice that the stereo says "Line In" and not USB.  So, I say "USB" and it switches to USB.  No problem.  (I also tried going through the menu system with the buttons on the stereo - no, not while driving, honey - still in the parking lot.  I found I could do it through there too, but the buttons are really confusing and not ergonomically placed.)

Now I'm getting somewhere, right?  "Please speak your command."  "Play All."  I get a gut-wrenching low-tone beep that probably indicates some kind of error, and "Indexing" is all the lady says.  All the screen says too.  I can't get music!

OK, so I have over an hour drive, and about 1,000 songs, perhaps it will take a little bit.  With repeated attempts to listen to my music over the next 20 minutes, I finally got so frustrated I yanked the USB cord, plugged in my 1/8" headset cord, and voila!  I had music the old fashioned way.  Simple, but effective.  The next time I plugged the USB cord in, the stereo was again switched to "Line In" - so I had to repeat the "Listen" button, say "USB", and then it began playing.  Ah!  Bliss.  I can see the track info in the display, sound is awesome, I can skip forward and backward a track.  So, push the command button, "Please speak your command."  "Play Steely Dan."  Error, not understood.  "Help."  Ah, OK, I need to say "Play Artist Steely Dan."  "Indexing."  What?  I can't say the words and have it go?  OK, it's still indexing.  Over the next 2 days!!  Come on.

Finally, Tuesday evening, my repeated attempts to speak a command works!  "Play Artist The Smashing Pumpkins."  Voila!  "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" comes on - fantastic!  "Play Artist The Cure" - Oh, I'm in heaven.  This is cool.  "Play Artist Boston."  Wow.  "Play Track You Give Love A Bad Name."  Neat.

Now, I wonder how it does with partial names?  "Play Artist Beethoven."  It says to say the number after the matching artist, and comes up with a list of 3 or 4 artists that don't quite sound like Beethoven, none of them Ludwig.  "Play Artist Ludwig Van Beethoven."  Same list.  "Play Artist Prokofiev." "Tchaikovsky."  "Mozart."  "Play Album Amadeus."  I guess SYNC doesn't like classical music!

OK, now that it's "working," it's time for me to upgrade my iPhone to OS 4, get all the new features.  Hmm, this is taking a while, almost 2 hours. Next day, I plug my phone in, it says it is recognizing a new device.  Indexing...  Nooooooo!!!!!

This time, it only took 1 day to index, with local driving (not the 1.25 hour freeway drive), so not too bad.  Throughout this, I tried various different ways of hooking it up.  Connecting the USB cord is great for music, but not for phone calls.  If I want to make hands-free calls, I have to mate the phone to the stereo via Bluetooth.  Now, I don't want to listen to my music that way, just make phone calls.  So, I mate it via Bluetooth, and it switches the media input to Bluetooth Stream.

Not what I wanted - I have to hit Play in the iPod app.  Push the button, "Speak your command,"  "USB", OK I'm in business.  Since this is a rental car, I chose not to sync my contacts with the car.  But, I dialed from my phone, and voila - music stops, sound is crystal clear, we can all hear each other great.  Fantastic.  Next time I get into the car, yes, it's back to Line In.  Then the phone hooks up over Bluetooth, and it changes to Bluetooth Stream.  No, I want USB, so I say "USB" and it says "No USB device detected."  Come on - the phone says it is plugged in.  I found that having both Bluetooth and USB connected, at least with an iPhone, is really buggy.  Several times when I finally did get it to recognize USB by unplugging and plugging it back in several times, it acted like it was playing, timer kept counting up, but no sound.  I finally gave up and turned Bluetooth off, and it worked great - a couple of times.  Then, I get "USB not connected" again.  Finally, I arrived at a combination that works every time, without hassle:  Hook up the headphone jack to "Line In" and mate the Bluetooth to the Hands Free system.  Yes, I discovered there are 2 Bluetooth subsystems, one for media input, one for phone.  Just mate the phone.  The Bluetooth media stream input is subject to static every now and then with radio interference.

So, I'm using an analog line in jack, and Bluetooth hands free (there are tons of non-SYNC stereos that do that).  What's the point of getting SYNC?

All in all, it is a very buggy system.  I don't know if it would be any better with another phone, such as a Windows Mobile phone or some other OS.  I don't know what phone OS's it supports - possibly Palm, possibly Android, maybe Blackberry.  However, with almost 50 million devices out there, the Apple seems like it should be the most supported.

The voice recognition worked pretty well with my Midwestern White Guy "no accent" American English, this really made me wonder what would happen if I were from another country?  What if the artist, track, or album name were from another language?  Just trying to play music from the classical Baroque composers gave me a hint of that - it didn't know who Hector Berliosz was.

The Pluses and the Minuses

    * Way cool idea
    * Voice recognition on commands was quite good, it was just on the names from my music library that it had problems
    * The sound is absolutely fantastic, perhaps the best I've heard in a vehicle without going into some pimped out stereo system and dangling fuzzy balls around the windshield, black light underneath, and custom rims
    * When it works, it works well - that is, when I can get the Bluetooth working for the phone at the same time the USB cord is plugged in - but don't turn off the car or unplug, or it'll reboot
    * You are less likely to be pulled over for texting if you are playing with your stereo instead of your phone - now isn't that a hoot!  It's just as distracting!

    * It takes a while to "boot up" the stereo - well, what do you expect, it's Windows!
    * Really buggy, had to unplug & plug it back in.  It even totally froze my phone just unplugging it so I can get out of the car, I had to hard power it down.
    * The indexing took way too long, and that damn progress bar - give me a percentage number so I can see how long it's going to take.  Doesn't Microsoft learn anything after over 20 years of Windows?
    * It doesn't remember basic settings, like the USB input (Line In wasn't even connected, but it kept defaulting to that when I start the car).
    * The integration is spotty - it takes a few seconds of playing the music before the text info comes up, there was no (obvious) way to fast forward or rewind within a track (I tried holding the arrow buttons down, didn't work), and the whole Bluetooth thing was a major annoyance, not worth even using it.
    * The 2-line text display made it actually pretty difficult to navigate the menus.
    * The button placement and button labeling on the car stereo unit were confusing, distracting, and not at all clear (this from a tech guru who can figure out how to stop the 12:00 from flashing on any device in about 30 seconds!).

Bottom line, it's pretty cool and works kind of well, but I wouldn't spend money on the thing, at least not based on performance with the iPhone.  Folks, it needs work.  It seems most of the GM and Chrysler vehicles just have a line in jack, that works great.  (What's that?  What about other makes?  What other car makes are there?  Hey, I'm from Detroit, dammit!  The only make I drive that ends in a vowel would be Dodge, and that's silent.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Defragmenting a Mac Hard Drive

OK, I just found out something disturbing, sick, and wrong!  As a PC expert, I have gotten used to defragmenting the hard drives of all my PCs nightly to keep peak performance.  Ever notice how your PC gets slower over time, until after a couple of years it is crawling along?  So, as a computer expert, I know that file systems, as they write, delete, and rewrite files, end up putting pieces of files all over the hard drive, possibly degrading performance.

However, the sick and wrong thing?  Apple has apparently, since OS X 10.2, been solving this problem by, can you believe it, making the operating system do the work for you!  What?  Yes, using technology, it keeps the files together, or utilizes the drive and caching technology so that you notice no performance difference.  So, the IBM laptop I have had for 2 weeks - 27% fragmented, dog slow, had to defrag.  The MacBook I have had for 7 months?  As fast as ever, and I wondered suddenly how to defrag it when the Disk Utility had no such option.

How is this sick and wrong?  That Microsoft, with all its resources, people, and technology, couldn't do it!  Apparently they don't even care enough, they are too busy making their operating system stable enough so they don't lose customers in droves to UNIX, Linux, and Mac.  Look at the massive global advertising for Windows 7 to overcome the Vista debacle.  Massive advertising for Windows XP to overcome the Windows ME debacle.  Windows 95 - Windows 3.x (remember Windows for Workgroups?).  See a pattern?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A response to Steve Jobs "Thoughts on Flash"

My screensaver was flashing the Apple News today, when I noticed an article by Steve Jobs about Flash. Since we have 3 iPhones in our family, this has been one of the few sore spots with that ownership. I'd like to share my perspective as a computer and iPhone expert, and longtime customer.

"Thank You"
First of all, Mr. Jobs, I think it is very important that you know I am a huge fan, ever since oh, sometime around 1981. What you and Mr. Wosniak have done is truly astounding, as an entrepreneur, inventor, businessman, and innovator. Truly, the products you have out on the market today have continued to push the envelope in reliability, usability, and giving consumers choices. However, I have to strongly take issue with your Thoughts.

I understand being principled - I direct much of my spending based upon principle: if the company whose products I am considering (or purchasing) is against my principles, I will either go elsewhere or go without. However, the problem as an Apple customer here is not principle. The problem is ubiquity and access to content. Yes, you have a point that Adobe's format is proprietary. However, it is, unarguably, ubiquitous, and as such much content made available to users is in a format that is not available on the iPhone/iPod/iPad devices.

"Full Web"
Flash is not, per se, a video format. Flash is so much more than video - it is an application architecture. As such, you are not only depriving your iPxxxx customers of videos, but of much web content that is necessary to their lives. Things like banking applications, web tools, searching, even web site content are only available in Flash. It would be one thing if these were available in H.264 or any of the other standards, but much of it is authored and available only in Flash. Hulu, Fancast, and many other video sites are only Flash. Since iPxxxx supports PDF, why not also Flash?

"Reliability, Security, Performance" and "Battery Life"
OK, if these are such issues, let's do something. There are many technologies available here. Crashing - you can virtualize or thread the running process, to isolate it and handle crashes. You can isolate calls it makes to create, delete and access files or resources to enhance security. You can even make these options available in Settings to the user, so he can decide for himself (yes, with all your legal disclaimers for CYA).

If battery life is truly a concern, it is not a concern on the iPhone (for sure) just because of Flash - it is a concern regardless. We all want longer battery life, and some products offer such benefits, like extended batteries or solar cells.

I find it insulting to yourselves that you think the Cocoa Touch development team could not come up with a creative solution, such as a gesture or additional button to help with the problem of treating a touch/drag like a mouse move. For a team that came up with the most innovative devices of the past decade, I think you sell them short. And, I bet you could push Adobe to come up with a mobile touch-enabled version of Flash, and I bet they would be more than happy to! You are approaching 40,000,000 devices, I think they would have an interest in it.

"Sixth, the most important reason."
Touche. But, let me say you opened this can of worms - the App Store suffers the same problem, albeit you do have some say in what is released through it. Users have to accept the risks of using such things on their devices, but we also trust that the underlying architecture will handle such "questionable code" in a robust way. We trust that it will prevent security intrusions (like accessing your contacts, etc.), we trust that it will handle crashes without needing a full restart, and I think it's time that you trust us users to know what it is we want. We want the best mobile platforms on the planet, with access to the content we need and want.

in reference to: Thoughts on Flash (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Wicked Cool VMWare Fusion

Wicked Cool VMWare Fusion

Some of you may have picked up on my geekiness on the Mac.  I am running OS X Snow Leopard on a MacBook Pro.  Also, if you know my history, I have been a PC expert for 20 years, so I know a lot of things PC and Windows, but very little (relatively) Mac.  So, in the course of business, home, and play, I occasionally have things that need to be done on a PC (especially since I don't have the money to replace all my home PCs with Macs yet).

In the computer industry, the thing that has taken it by storm over the past decade is something called Virtual Machines.  This allows you to "simulate" running a computer - within a computer.  What? Did that confuse you?  Basically, within a window, you can create an environment that is isolated from, but hooked into, the main physical computer.

About Virtual Machines

What does this do for you?  First of all, within the Virtual Machine (or just VM), you can install and run whatever software you want - including other operating systems.  Say you have Windows XP on your laptop, but you need to install and run Windows Server (without messing up your laptop), install a bunch of software, and try it out.  You can do this inside a VM.

Say you have this massive, beefy server that has all kinds of gigabytes, gigahertz, giga-whatever, and what you run only uses a fraction of its capabilities.  You can create several VM's, and run them as if you had multiple machines - even though the electricity, space, and hardware are those of only one box.  Oh, did I mention now you don't have to buy more physical machines to run more machines?  Now you see the cost savings.

If you are an old mainframe hack, you may say, "That sounds like the time slicing multiuser stuff we did on the mainframes."  But remember, a) this is on a PC, and b) this is not your daddy's time slicing - it is fully graphical, hardware abstracting, and integrated with all the devices for full virtualization.

Now, imagine that all this was free.  What?  Yes, free!  Well, other than licensing.  You have to own licenses for the operating systems - Windows, Linux, Ubuntu, what have you, and applications that you have installed within the VM.  The VM is abstracted from the hardware on the physical host machine, that is say you have a 3Com network card, a NVidia graphics controller, and 2 GB of RAM.  What happens if you move the VM to another machine with different hardware?  No problem, within the VM it makes generic hardware, and maps them to the physical hardware, so that it just works.

Who makes this software?  VMWare is the leader, but Microsoft, Virtual Iron, and many others have software that perform at least the basic functionality described above.

What else can you do?  Well, the more advanced features allow you to instantly swap your VM from one box to another if the hardware goes down (a product called VMotion in VMWare).  What about if you want to try something, like installing a new software or hardware, and if it screws everything up, you want to jump back to the way it was?  VMWare offers a feature called Snapshots, where you click a button, wait about 30 seconds, and your entire system state is backed up.  If you restore the snapshot, it takes about a minute or so, and voila - you are back to where you were.

As you can see, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up.


VMWare, an EMC company, has been in the business pretty much from the beginning of the modern usage of VMs, about 10 years ago.  I say they lead the market, mostly because a) they have the largest market share, and b) their software offers the most features and reliability.  However, as far as wicked way cool factor, there is no one else who even comes close!

Personally, for work and home I have been using VMWare for about 8 years now.  To run my network at home, I have my server on a VM.  So, when I get a new machine, and want to transfer the server from one box to another, it is simply a matter of copying the (large) files that VMWare needs for the VM, and then booting it up on the new box.  20 minutes, and I have everything transferred and running on the new machine.  Very convenient.

VMWare offers several products, some free, some for money.  Let's talk about them:

  • VMWare Server - free.  This is what I use at home for my server.  It allows you to run as many VM's as you have hardware for, and for each VM you can take 1 snapshot.  You can also create
    VM's.  Good enough!
  • VMWare Workstation - $189, for Windows.  This allows you to run machines in a non-Production mode, meaning you are allowed to use  it for testing and development purposes, but not to set up a bunch of servers and run an Internet store.  This was my introduction to VMWare 8 years ago.  You can take as many snapshots as you want
    (as you have hard drive space for!).  You can also create VM's.
  • VMWare Player - free.  This allows you to boot and run a VM  on Windows.
  • VMWare Fusion for Mac - $79.  All the stuff you can do on the PC, on the Mac.  Load your VM files, boot them, and voila - you are up and running.
  • There are other VMWare products, aimed at high-end servers for businesses.  These are ESX, GSX, VMotion, etc.
  • All flavors of VMWare allow you to install virtually any operating system - from any version of Windows back to 3.1 and forward to the new Beta versions, to Unix, Linux, Ubuntu, Netware, and more.  Cool!
What else does VMWare allow you to do?  They have something truly ingenious (as if the above isn't ingenious enough!).  This is called Unity Mode.  So, running a VM is a lot like remote controlling another computer's screen - you can see all the applications running in windows, the start menu, system tray, etc.  But, in Unity Mode, the applictions running INSIDE the VM are shown in the HOST machine as separate icons on your task bar.  That is, you can press ALT-TAB, and you get a list of applications running both on the Host and VM as if they were unified in one!  That's cool.

VMWare Fusion

So, now to the Mac.  OK, you know how much I LOVE the Mac?  Well, I've had a Mac now for some 7 months, and I never want to use a PC again!  Well, that is how much better Fusion is to VMware Player or Workstation!

First, Fusion is totally redesigned using the Cocoa framework on the Mac.  That is, it is a natively designed application, not a port from another computer environment.  It works, and it works well.

Second, you know how Windows and Mac are slightly different look and feel?  Well, Fusion does a fantastic job of exposing Windows to the Mac interface.  For example, when you run a VM, you get your normal look and feel, but with the Mac wrapped around it.

You also get a menu in the top task bar, that gives you access to the VM's in your library.  This lets you start, stop, and alter the view of the VM, but it also does something way way too sweet.  You can access the Start menu inside of Windows in the VM!

Now, what about Unity?  Yes!  When you switch your VM to
Unity, the VM window disappears, and all the applications running inside of the VM appear as if they are running on your Mac!  Command-Tab, and you get a list of all apps, including the ones in the VM.  Hit the menu bar menu, and you get the Run command, Control Panel, My Documents, the Start menu, everything right from within OS X!  That's right, you are not just booting your Mac into either Windows or OS X - you are
booting both!  (Oh, and any other OS you want to install).  Seamless hardware integration - network cards, sound, graphics, USB, CD/DVD drives, and more - make you no longer worry will my software work with my hardware.  It just works, like magic.

Now, if that ain't enough, and if you are a savvy Windows user you might ask, what about those tray icons?  The Windows task bar disappears in Unity mode.  Look!  See at the top of the screen?  Those tray icons appear in the Mac menu bar!  They thought of everything.

So, do you agree with me now - the VMWare guys are sheer genius?  This is true magic if I ever saw it in the guise of software.  And, it is rock solid.  The only thing that ever crashes is Windows.  I even ran multiple VMs at once, no problem on a 4GB RAM 64-bit laptop.  Some of my VMs are on an external USB drive, and then I may notice some slowdown occasionally - but I am really pushing the system to its limits.

Genius!  Bravo.  This is simply the best software I have ever seen on any machine.  For $99 I got Fusion and 1 year of support.  Although, I am not sure if I will ever need the support - it just works.  So far.  I've only been using Fusion for 2 months now (heavily).

Now, my major dilemma here is what words do I use to describe the coolness factor?  Wicked way, is way too lame.  I think we have to devise some new words in the English language (slanguage?).