simonmackay Archive

Gateway back in Australia

From the late 80s through to now, Gateway 2000 Computers, one of the early “PC clone” manufacturers had existed alongside Dell as a mail-order “reseller” outfit. They had a major stronghold in this early market primarily by selling “build-to-order” computers in a similar vein to Dell, and had used the “cow” theme in most of their advertising. They even took out “themed” multi-page advertisements in the computer press, with such themes as 1950s USA, Wild West, soap operas and the like. Since 2000, they renamed themselves simply as Gateway Computers, but still maintained the “cow” theme.

They had sold some of their products to markets like Australia, both through direct order and, later on, through “bricks and mortar” shops. But economic conditions such as the bursting of the “dotcom bubble” had taken a toll on the company and they pulled out of overseas markets and moved towards just being an Acer-controlled computer wholesaler who sells through major online and “bricks-and-mortar” shops.

Now, they have reappeared in Australia through “Geek Central” who is a small computer dealer with two shops, one of which is in the CBD (downtown) area, and an online-order business. Here, they are focusing more on notebook computers “across the board”, including netbooks.

I had noticed this today when Geek Central had a display of Gateway notebooks with a sign that “Gateway’s back” at the Digital Lifestyle Expo in Melbourne. It certainly shows that some brands may live on in other forms.

Send to Kindle

Windows 7 – Welcome to the new operating system

windows7bootAfter Microsoft had the PR fiasco with Windows Vista, they decided to re-engineer the Windows platform and released the new Windows 7 operating system. One main benefit is that the operating system has been stable even during the public beta and release-candidate versions.

Packages

Each package in Windows 7 is a superset of the package below it. So a Professional package doesn’t omit the multimedia features that are part of Home Premium. This is unlike Windows Vista where you lost the multimedia features and advanced games if you got the Business package, which goes against the reality of small-business users who use the multimedia functionality to while away long plane trips or play casual games to while away long processes such as being put on hold in a phone call. The three main packages that I will be covering and recommending are listed below; and I would recommend that users factor in having their Windows 7 operating system be one of these packages when they have the operating system pre-installed on their new computer.

Home Premium

This one is perfect for a regular home desktop or laptop user because of integrating functions that are part of home computing life.

Professional

This package is suitable for tertiary students, SOHO users and small businesses who want proper functionality for their business or study life. Most of the functionality that this package has is to do with connectivity, especially with college / university networks in the case of students and business networks, whether managed by IT staff or a business IT-support contractor; or managed by yourself.

Ultimate

This package, which is the “Fairmont Ghia” of the Windows 7 lineup, is what I would recommend if you work in a high-risk environment with highly-valuable highly-sensitive customer data. This would cover medical professionals, lawyers, accountancy-related professionals, people who deal with highly-valuable merchandise like those in the arts and antiques trade, and those who are working on highly-valuable content. This is because of the built-in security functionality offered through the BitLocker and BitLocker To Go volume-encrypting functionality.

Simple yet secure

One of the main complaints with Windows Vista, especially from home and small-business users was the way the User Account Control system worked. This included tasks that typically wouldn’t affect the stability or security of the system, such as setting the DPI of the screen or adding some peripherals requiring the user to complete the User Account Control process as part of the task.

The idea initially was for the operating system to work on “least privilege” with the system invoking higher privilege levels as required. Now Microsoft have improved the way that this protection works by having certain tasks like DPI setup and peripheral installation being in the scope of all privilege levels. As well, the level of User Account Control interaction can be varied by the user or system administrator to suit their needs.

Improved hardware installation and utilisation

Most device drivers for any computer peripherals will be loaded and kept up-to-date through the Windows Update function that is part of the operating system. In some cases, the hardware will primarily work with “class drivers” that pertain to the kind of device being installed. This of course is supported through USB, Bluetooth, UPnP / DLNA and similar standards that exist for types of devices that use particular physical or logical connection methods. In a few cases, mostly with legacy devices, you may have to supply the manufacturer-supplied files to the computer, either by downloading the file from the manufacturer’s Web site or loading an “install” program from a CD-ROM supplied with the device.

As well, printers, scanners, multimedia hardware, portable peripherals (digital cameras, mobile phones, portable media players, etc) and other selected hardware classes will appear on a visual “inventory” window called the Devices And Printers Folder. When you click on a device icon, which will be a photorealistic representation of the physical device, you will open up the Device Stage window. In this window, you will have a photographic representation of the device and a list of tasks appropriate to that particular device model like a printer’s desktop “ink monitor” application or "Sync media files” for a media player. You will also have links to the device manufacturer’s homepage and the particular device page managed by your device’s manufacturer for that device. This can help with such things as knowing where to find new firmware for your device. Devices that are the backbone of the system like the motherboard’s chipsets and the CPU will be hidden from this window. Multi-function devices like the printer/scanner combos will typically have their functions grouped together for that same physical device, rather than each function being a separate device.

This will make you want to use the value-added functions of your peripheral devices more frequently rather than underutilising the devices.

As far as router setup goes, Windows 7, like Windows Vista SP2, supports the quick and easy setup of wireless network segments using WPS. This includes support for “push-push” WPS installations where you only need to push the WPS button on the router.

Improved User Interface

This operating system has major improvements over the way the desktop works. This includes use of “Aero Shake”, which lets you hide all the programs other than the one you want to focus on just by dragging and shaking the program’s window with the mouse, drag-to-edge window “tiling”, amongst other functions that make it easier to see what is on the desktop especially if you have many programs running.

As well, programs that are in the Quick Launch bar on the Taskbar now can support “Jump Lists” which are like Start Menu shortcuts and Recent Items lists implemented for that program. You will still have the regular Start Menu which will be similar to what you have experienced with Windows Vista.

Logical file collections

A file collection or “library”, like “Documents”, “Pictures” or “Music” can be considered as a logical file collection which encompasses user-defined folders on any volume available to the system. This can cater for people who have files held on different partitions, other hard drives such as the second internal hard disk in many power-users’ desktops or external hard disks, or network-accessible locations.

The practice of adding or removing folders in a logical collection is very similar to moving or copying folders using Windows Explorer.

Improved support for alternate input methods

Windows 7 has inherent support for touchscreens, including multi-touch touchscreens. This can allow for “touch me” operation of the Windows 7 user interface and allow for programs to support touch-driven user interface. It can lead to the computer having an “iPhone” user interface for common tasks. Infact companies who are making premium “all-in-one” desktop computers are implementing the touchscreen user interface in these computers as a “luxury statement”.

The tablet-based user interface has been improved for people who own tablet-compliant laptops such as the “swivel-head” laptops that can work as a tablet computer or a conventional laptop computer. There have been improvements in handwriting recognition and now you can use the tablet interface to write “sums” or other maths equations through the use of a “Math Input Panel”. Even the on-screen keyboard has been improved with predictable text input similar to most of the new mobile phones.

Next article

I will be talking about Windows 7 more in the next instalment, where it will touch on how it will improve the home media network.

Send to Kindle

Possible improvement ideas for the new microUSB-based external-power standard for mobile phones

Introduction

As part of the “green ethos”, there has been a rethink concerning powering portable battery-operated devices from external power supplies. One issue that was raised was running a device continuously from a battery charger when the battery was charged. Similarly, every time someone bought a new portable device or upgraded their existing portable device, they would receive an AC adaptor or battery charger as part of the delivery. If they replaced the previous device, they wouldn’t be able to use the external power supply devices that was used with the previous device on the new device unless it was made by the same manufacturer or, in some cases, part of a particular series of devices.

This has led to the idea of powering or charging personal devices via a standard “microUSB” connection that would be use also for wireline-based data transfer. This allowed for a “one-size-fits-all” connection so that the user keeps one external power solution (AC-powered charger, car charger, etc) for their device even if they upgrade the device to a newer model. This avoids the need to junk AC adaptors and car chargers during a phone upgrade, although most of these power supplies are often stored in drawers around the home.

It has also led to devices using “pronounced” visual and audible alerts to let their users know that the battery is fully charged from an external power supply. This is with a view to encourage users to disconnect the device from the external power supply once the battery is full.

External-power-supply operation mode

There are other reasons why we may keep a device plugged in to an external power supply beyond the time required for battery charging. One common reason is part of a practice that has been commonly practiced since the 1960s primarily with portable radios, portable tape recorders, pocket calculators and other electronic devices that were commonly used with disposable dry cells. This is to run the device and use its primary functions from the external power supply, thus conserving battery runtime and allowing the user to use those functions that would compromise the battery runtime, like using the device’s lighting or fast-winding tapes in a portable tape recorder. In some cases, people connect their portable devices to car adaptors that plug in to a vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket so that the device can work from the vehicle’s electrical system while they are under way in the vehicle.

If a phone or other device that is being charged is meant to signal when the battery is full, the device should also have a user-selectable option to simply run from the external power supply rather than the battery when the battery is full and “fall over” to the fully-charged battery when the external power supply is turned off or disconnected. This mode could allow a user to run the phone from the external power as a way of conserving battery runtime and would be more relevant to smartphones and phones that can work as media players, GPS navigation units or handheld games consoles like my Nokia N85 or the Apple iPhone. The message could say “Battery full, Running on external power” as an alternative to a “please disconnect external power” message. As well, the device could show an “external power” icon like a “plug icon” that indicates it is running on the external power. It can also lead to "power-source-dependent” operating modes like the display being brighter and always on when connected to external power.

There could be an extension to the new micro-USB power-supply standard to cover external battery packs that supply power to devices either from common “AA, C or D” batteries or high-capacity rechargeable battery packs. These could signal to the device that they are an external battery pack and the device works as if on its own batteries when they are connected. This would lead to regular battery-mode operation like the display lighting up on demand; and could allow for “power-only, no charging” behaviour if the internal battery is full. It can also allow for the battery-level gauge to show a battery-level reading for either the internal battery or the external battery pack or a “combined” battery-level reading for both battery packs.

Self-powered multi-port USB hubs

I have tried using some self-powered multi-port USB hubs as battery chargers for my Nokia N85 mobile phone but sometimes the phone will treat the USB hub simply as a data uplink rather than a battery charger. I have also seen similar “hit and miss” behaviour with the Apple iPhone or recent-issue Apple iPods.

What needs to happen is that these hubs need to support “battery charger” / “power supply” mode when nothing is connected to the upstream (computer) port and the only thing connected to them is their AC adaptor. They would then need to provide the full power requirement for each of the ports and behave as if they are a power supply. They could switch off power to ports that don’t have anything connected to them so as to conserve energy. The AC adaptor would also have to be rated to provide the full power to each of the ports.

This is because a 7-port self-powered USB hub can appeal to being used as a “charging bar” for multiple personal-electronics devices, thus avoiding the need to use a powerboard to power many mobile-phone chargers.

Similarly, this idea can lead to the development of integrated “power-only” USB hubs that can be built in to various objects, including furniture and vehicles.

Speaking of vehicles, I may have mentioned this before, but there needs to be a reference design for a USB 2.0 or 3.0 self-powered multi-port hub that can work in an automotive environment. This involves support for a reference 5V 2.3A DC power supply circuit that can work from either a 12V or 24V DC power supply like what is found in a vehicle. The reference design should support power regulation so it can handle a “rough” power environment such as power “sags” and “surges” that occur when the engine is started. As well, it could support the concept of “ignition-switch control” where devices could be put in to low-power mode or turned off when the driver removes the key from the ignition switch.

Conclusion

Once these factors are looked at, they can allow us to provide better use of the new standards for operating our smartphones and similar devices in an optimum manner.

Send to Kindle

Using your AppleTalk or LocalTalk printer with Snow Leopard

The problem

When Apple launched the “Snow Leopard” version of MacOS X, they dropped software support for the legacy AppleTalk direct-connect printing protocol and its LocalTalk network printing protocol. This is part of Apple moving towards the use of common application protocols in the Macintosh operating system,

Some Macintosh users use classic printers that they consider as being “worth their salt” and also notice that there is plenty of mileage left in these machines. They are usually less likely to upgrade any of these machines for newer equipment and want to keep them going. A lot of these printers have often been set up to work with the AppleTalk or LocalTalk protocols and most of their users will be wondering how to get them going again.

Use of alternative connections

You may have to use alternative connections for connecting your printer to your Snow Leopard Macintosh or home network.

One method would be to connect the printer to your Mac using a USB cable or, in the case of older printers that use a parallel port, a USB-parallel adaptor cable. These can be obtained from most computer stores or computer markets for a very low price.

Another method would be to connect the printer to the network if it has an Ethernet port and have it print using LPR/LPD or IPP network-printing protocols. This also applies to those printers that use LocalTalk as a network printing protocol. Usually this involves using the printer’s user interface to set the printer to use a fixed IP address on your network and enabling support for LPR/LPD, SMB/CIFS (Windows) or IPP protocols.

Use of a print server device

You may be able to share the printer through a print server, whether as a dedicated device or an older not-so-powerful computer running an older version of the Macintosh operating system or another operating system like Windows or Linux, as an LPR/LPD, SMB/CIFS or IPP printer. Infact, some routers and network-attached storage devices made by various third-party manufacturers have a USB connection and are capable of working as LPR/LPD or IPP print servers.

If you use a computer to share a printer, the printer-sharing software will have to be set up to share the printer on the LPR/LPD, SMB/CIFS (Windows) or IPP protocols.

When you set up your Snow Leopard client machine, you will have to set the “Print Using” option to point to the driver that matches your printer. In some cases, you may have to track down a newer driver that can work on either Tiger, Leopard or Snow Leopard.

Other Resources

How To Resurrect Your AppleTalk Printer In Snow Leopard – The Apple Blog

AppleTalk & Snow Leopard – Apple Support Discussions

Determining the IP Address in your HP LaserJet – Hewlett Packard Support

Send to Kindle

Windows 7 hardware intended to upstage the Apple Mac hardware

News articles and links to campaigns

HP Envy premium laptops – HP US site

Acer Aspire Z5610 spotted in the wild – Engadget

Windows 7 launch day hardware spectacular – Engadget

L’Acer Aspire Z5610 également multi-touch – Journal Du Geek (France – French language)

My comments

Last night, I was checking on my blog and had noticed that Hewlett-Packard had taken a vertical image ad on one of the AdSense ad units that I have running on the blog just close to when Windows 7 was launched. This ad had an image of the Envy laptop and the words “The Power Of Envy” written down the ad as well as the HP and “Intel Inside” logos. So I did a search using Bing on the terms used in the ad and this led me to HP’s series of Windows-7-based Envy premium laptops, rather than clicking on the AdSense unit so I don’t commit click fraud. Judging from the photos of the HP Envy laptops that I saw on the campaign site, the look of this computer reminded me of a recent-model Apple MacBook Pro laptop.

Similarly, there was an Engadget post about the Acer Aspire Z5610 all-in-one PC which had the look and functionality that could upstage the newer Apple iMacs. As well, the “all-in-one” computers listed in Engadget’s Windows 7 launch day hardware list were styled to look like a tabletop version of a European-built premium flat-panel TV. Similarly, Sony had just launched a VAIO all-in-one computer that mimics the industrial design of one of the small-screen BRAVIA flat-panel TVs

These hardware product launches were intended to be hot on the heels of Apple’s recent iMac and MacBook prduct-range launch and most of these machines would appeal to Windows buyers who like the look of Apple’s computer range.

In my honest opinion, the Windows 7 launch has heralded one of the biggest consumer-computing platform showdowns ever.

Send to Kindle

Invitation to comment about Windows 7

Anyone who is reading this blog and has Windows 7 running on a new or existing PC is invited to post their experiences about the operating system in the Comments thread after this post. It doesn’t matter if you bought the operating system as an upgrade or full-version package, or had it as part of a newly-bought computer. This also includes those of you who work at workplaces that have had Windows 7 rolled out as part of a technology upgrade.

If you are reading this blog in the European Union and have installed Windows 7 on the computer or bought a computer with Windows 7 as standard, did you have to go through the "browser ballot” screen and, if so, what Web browser have you elected to use as your standard browser?

How did you go about installing it, whether as an upgrade over an existing XP or Vista installation or as a clean install of the C: drive? If you bought a new computer with it preloaded, how did the experience go with first-time setup?

How easy is Windows 7 to use compared to your previous Windows XP or Vista experiences? Was there an increased learning curve when it came to doing the tasks that you want to do?

How did your Windows 7 computer co-exist with Windows XP or Vista computers on the same network? Was it also easier to bring a work-home laptop home and integrate it in to your home network?

All comments on this post are moderated, like other comments on any post in this blog and I will remove any comment spam, or comments that attempt to humiliate other users about their operating environments.

Send to Kindle

New product launches – Windows 7, new Apple Macintosh range

Windows 7, the operating system that all of the Windows user community have been waiting for is now out on the shelves.

This is not Microsoft propaganda, but I have heard from some hardcore PC enthusiasts who have tried pre-release issues of the operating system and they have found that it was worth its salt. They have considered it as a very stable and capable operating system for “standards-based” Windows computing environments.

At the same time,Apple had launched new hardware for their Macintosh platform, which would be seen as a way to steal Microsoft’s thunder. This hardware lineup was hot on the heels of MacOS X being brought to Snow Leopard, thus allowing newer Macs to work at their best. But I also see it as a coup for diehard Mac users running older PowerPC hardware to consider a Snow-Leopard-driven hardware upgrade.

The activity that I have seen for both the Windows and MacOS X platforms has certainly showed me that this year is definitely a big year for the two most popular general-purpose computing platforms.

Send to Kindle

A UPnP AV / DLNA media gateway for the Apple MobileMe service

I have had a look around the iTunes App Store to find out if there are any more programs that bring the iPod Touch or iPhone to the DLNA Media Network in any capacity, and this program had peeked my interest.

It is the ceCloud iPhone app which brings photos held in the user’s MobileMe account to a  DLNA-capable electronic picture frame, TV or network media adaptor. The MobileMe service is a content-syncing service run by Apple as their platforms’ answer to the Microsoft Exchange, Windows Live SkyDrive and Mesh services. This app can be useful if you maintain the MobileMe service as a primary photo library or use it to just hold pictures captured using your iPhone’s camera or downloaded from your digital camera to your Macbook laptop; yet want to make them available to the DLNA-compliant equipment.

For the program to work, the iPhone will need to be connect to a WiFi network segment which is in the same logical network as your DLNA-compliant media playback device. It would also be a good idea to keep the iPhone or iPod Touch connected to AC power at all times while you run the program.

What had impressed me about this program is that there was the idea of building in a UPnP AV / DLNA media gateway in to a smartphone in order to connect to a “cloud” service that the smartphone’s platform can benefit from.

Web site: http://www.ceapps.com/cecloud/

iTunes App Store Direct

Send to Kindle

Special Report – 10 Years Of the UPnP Forum

Originally posted 9 September 2009, Reposted Tuesday 20 October 2009 in conjunction with the official press release

From The Horse’s Mouth

Official press release from the UPnP Forum – PDF

In the media and blogosphere

UPnP celebrates 10 years of existence | eHomeUpgrade

 

No need to configure the router every time you want to play a PC-based or console-based online game or use Skype and Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger).

You can navigate music, pictures or video held on a computer or network-attached storage device from a network media player device like an Internet radio with the same ease as navigating music on an MP3 player or using the computer’s media-management software.

How has this been brought about? It has been brought about with UPnP, which is a standard for controlling and monitoring devices over an IP-based network. The standard, which is held together by the UPnP Forum, is about a known device network architecture and known device classes that are determined for particular device types.

Microsoft had been one of the founding companies for this standard but the Open-Source software movement had welcomed it with open arms and developed many endpoint programs based on this standard. The only company that has not welcomed UPnP as a technology is Apple who still prefer to keep everything within their own fences.

Now the UPnP Forum are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. The celebrations were part of their regular Steering Committee meeting at Microsoft’s head office in Redmond, USA.

Achievements – from personal Web research

The UPnP Device Architecture specification has now been taken to Version 2, which allows a device to service 2 networks and prepares UPnP for IPv6 networks. The AV specifications have been taken to version 3 for the MediaServer device so that a UPnP AV-based home media network can support broadcast recording whether immediately or on a scheduled basis, handling of premium content using digital rights management techniques, as well as support for “follow-me” functionality. It has then made the specifications more relevant to TV-based devices like digital TVs and set-top boxes / PVRs.

Most standards concerning the design of consumer network-Internet “edge” devices such as routers like CableHome 1.1, DSLHome TR064 / TR068 and Home Gateway Initiative include UPnP Internet Gateway Device as part of the mandatory set of specifications for these devices. As well, more Internet-based programs like BitTorrent clients, games and instant-messaging / VoIP programs are designed to take advantage of the UPnP Internet Gateway Device standard by being “self-configuring” at the edge. This is infact one of the primary reasons that whenever I buy or specify a router for someone’s home network, I make sure that it does properly support the UPnP Internet Gateway Device specification.

The two main games consoles that just about every teenage boy or young man has or wants to have – the Microsoft XBox360 and the Sony PlayStation 3 – both have inherent support for UPnP-based home networking. This is with automated port-forwarding for online games and now support for media playback from UPnP AV / DLNA media servers.

This leads me to the fact that the Digital Living Network Alliance have pushed forward the UPnP AV specifications and encouraged the development of server, playback and control devices based on these specifications. This development has been supported by the devices having the DLNA branding which will help consumers purchase the right products.

These situations have also been augmented with Windows XP and Vista having integrated UPnP functionality “out of the box”. Even Windows Media Player had the support for UPnP AV sharing “out of the box” since version 10. Windows 7 has taken this concept by working as a UPnP AV Media Control Point “out of the box” with functions like “Play To”.

Some standards have been achieved for the building control and security sector, mainly in the form of lighting and HVAC control, control of powered blinds and setup of network CCTV cameras. Further development will be likely to happen with the impetus of the smart-grid concept and the desire for energy efficiency and environment consciousness. This will be assisted if these standards are part of a known platform used for these applications.

Common standards have also been achieved for managing quality of service, device security and power management by define Device Classes for the applications. These can allow the creation of an application-level functionality for these particular functions.

All in all, the UPnP concept has come a long way since 1999 but there still need to be a lot more work to do to make it pervasive.

Celebrations – from communication with Toby Nixon

People that had established the UPnP Forum such as Karen Stash (original UIC President), Jawad Khaki (original executive sponsor from Microsoft) and Salim AbiEzzi (original UPnP Steering Committee chair) appeared for the celebrations.

Six people had received “Outstanding Contributor Award” – Shivaun Albright of Hewlett-Packard (Chair of Imaging Working Committee & Architecture Committee), John Ritchie of Intel (long time chair of AV Working Committee & Technical Committee),Hans-Joachim Langels of Siemens (co-chair of Home Automation & Security Working Committee), Tom McGee of Philips (second president of UIC), Karen Stash of Microsoft and Toby Nixon of Microsoft. They also gave recognition to Karen Reff of VTM who has left that company in September 2007 and moved on.

As part of the dinner party, they also viewed a slide show of images from past UPnP events and a presentation on the history of the UPnP Forum and various key milestones associated with the technology.

There will be more information “from the horse’s mouth” when the UPnP Forum run the official press release on October 18 which is the actual 10th anniversary date.

Send to Kindle

Legal right to 1Mbps broadband Internet in Finland

Finnish government promises fast broadband by 2015 | Helsinki Times (Finland)

Finland says that 1Mb broadband is a right, not a privilege | Engadget

Broadband a legal right from 2010 in Finland | ThinkBroadband

Applause For Finland: First Country To Make Broadband Access A Legal Right | TechCrunch

Le haut débit devient un droit fondamental en Finlande | DegroupNews (France – French language)

My comments on this step towards universal Internet access

Most countries who implement universal Internet access take it to a similar level to how electricity or telephone are provided to everyone. But Finland have done what would be typical of a progressive Scandinavian country with a tech economy. They have made this a legal right for Finnish inhabitants to have 1 Mbps broadband-grade “hot and cold running” Internet by July 2010 and the minimum to be raised 10Mbps to 2015.

This has put an impetus on the government to set up the necessary programs in an orderly manner rather than adopting a “Monte Carlo” approach to providing universal broadband Internet service. As well, Finland is setting themselves as an example to other states when it comes to providing universal broadband Internet and assuring its access by all citizens.

A lot of the blogosphere have made comments on this achievement by describing it as a right to download BitTorrents of movie and TV material but they don’t think of such concepts as triple-play or “over-the-top” video, improved telephony or the ability to run competitive business.

At least this is an example of a country being a “proving ground” for broadband Internet access being as much a protected right as running water.

Send to Kindle