Consumer Electronics Show 2010

I have written some other posts about the Consumer Electronics Show 2010, mainly about the rise of Android and about Skype being integrated in to regular TV sets. But this is the main post about what has been going on at this show.

TV technologies

The main technologies that were present at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show were those technologies related to the TV set.

US consumers are in a TV upgrade cycle due to the country undergoing a digital TV switchover and are preferring flatscreen sets over CRT sets. This is even though there are digital-TV set-top boxes being made available at very cheap prices and through government subsidy programs. The main reality is that the older sets will be “pushed down” to applications like the spare bedroom with the newer sets being used in the primary viewing areas.

Screen Technologies

The main technology that is capturing the CES show floor is 3D TV. This has been brought on by the success of “Avatar” and requires a 3D-capable TV and, for Blu-Ray discs, a 3D-capable Blu-Ray player. In the case of broadcast content, some HD-capable set-top boxes and PVRs that are in the field can be upgraded to 3D functionality through an “in-the-field” firmware update.

In most cases, viewers will need to wear special glasses to view the images with full effect and most implementations will be base on the “RealD” platform. Some eyewear manufacturers are even jumping in on the act to provide “ready-to-wear” and prescription glasses for this purpose.

Vizio had also introduced a 21:9 widescreen TV even though activity on this aspect ratio had become very dormant.

Blu-Ray

The US market has cracked key price marks for standalone lounge-room players and there is an increase in the supply of second-tier models, especially integrated “home-theatre-in-box” systems and low-cost players.

US ATSC Mobile DTV standard

You may not be able to get away from the “boob tube” at all in America with portable-TV products based on the new ATSC Mobile digital TV standard which has been released to the market this year.

LG are launching a mobile phone and a portable DVD player with mobile DTV reception capability. They are also releasing a mobile ATSC DTV tuner chip that is optimised for use in in-car tuners, laptops and similar designs. Vizio are also releasing a range of handheld LED-backlit LCD TVs for this standard.

A key issue that may need to be worked out with this standard is whether an ATSC Mobile DTV device can pick up regular over-the-air ATSC content. This is more so if companies use this technology as the TV-reception technology for small-screen transportable TVs typically sold at the low-end of the TV-receiver market. It is also of concern with computer implementations where a computer may be used as a “one-stop entertainment shop” with TV-reception abilities.

There is a small Mobile-DTV – WiFi network tuner, known as the Tivit, that was shown at the CES. It is a battery-operated device that is the size of an iPhone and uses the WiFi technology to pass mobile TV content to a laptop, PDA or smartphone that is running the appropriate client software. It has a continuous “battery-only” run-time of 3 hours but can be charged from a supplied AC adaptor or USB port. I consider this product as being a highly-disruptive device that could be deployed in, for example, a classroom to “pass around” TV content, but it also has its purpose as something to show the ballgame on a laptop during the tailgate picnic. The main question I have about this is whether it can be a DLNA broadcast server so that people can use them with any software or hardware DLNA-based media playback client.

Network-enabled TV viewing

This now leads me to report on what is happening with integrating the TV with the home network.

More of the “over-the-top” IPTV and video-on-demand solutions (Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu, etc) are becoming part of most network-enabled home video equipment. In the US, this may make the concept of “pulling out the cable-TV cable” (detaching from multichannel pay-TV services) real without the users forfeiting the good content. They could easily run with off-the-air network TV or basic cable TV and download good movies and television serials through services like Netfilx or Hulu.

The main enabler of this would be the “Smart TVs” which connect to the home network and the Internet, thus providing on-screen data widgets, YouTube integration, DLNA content access, as well as the “over-the-top” services. Even so, the TV doesn’t necessarily have to have this functionality in it due to peripheral devices like home-theatre receivers (Sherwood RD-7505N) and multimedia hard disks (Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD) having these functions. Of course, games consoles wouldn’t be considered complete nowadays unless they have the functionality.

RF-based two-way remote control

Some home-AV manufacturers are moving away from the regular one-way infrared remote control, mainly in order to achieve increased capability and increased reliability. These setups are typically in the form of a hardware remote control or software remote control application that runs on a smartphone and they use Bluetooth as a way of communicating with the device.

These setups will typically require the customer to “pair” the remote control or the smartphone as part of device setup, which will be an experience similar to pairing a Bluetooth headset with a mobile phone. They have infra-red as a user-enabled fallback method for use with universal remote controls, but this could at least foil the likes of disruptive devices like “TV Turn-Off”.

The main driver behind this form of two-way remote control is to provide a secondary screen for interactive video such as BD-Live Blu-Ray discs. Infact, Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” Blu-Ray disc implements this technology in the form of an iPhone app which links with certain Blu-Ray players to use the iPhone’s user interface as a jukebox for the title.

Smartphones and MIDs

Previously, I had done a blog article on the rise of the Android platform as a challenger to the Apple iPhone market share as far as smartphones are concerned.. There is even talk of Android working beyond the smartphone and the MID towards other device types like set-top boxes and the like, with some prototype devices being run on this operating system.

There is an up-and-coming MID in the form of the Adam Internet Tablet MID. This Android-based unit which can link to WiFi netwoks and has a 32Gb SSD, also has a new display-type combination in the form of an anti-glare LCD / e-ink display

This year. the “smartbook” is gaining prominence as a new general-purpose computing form factor. It is a computer that looks like a netbook but is smaller than one of them. It is powered by an ARM-processor abd could run integrated 3G or cellular calls; and its functionality is more equivalent to that of a smartphone.

There have been some E-book readers shown but these are mostly tied to a particular publisher or retail chain.

Connected Car Media

Pioneer and Alpine have equipped their top-of-the-line multimedia head units with “connected radio” functionality. This function works with a USB-tethered iPhone running the Pandora Internet Radio app. Both these solutions act as a “controller” for the Pandora app, with the iPhone pulling in the online content through that service. The Pioneer solution also offers a “virtual-DJ” function in the form of an extended-functionality app that works alongside iTunes. All these solutions are intended to appeal to the young fashion-conscious male who sees the iPhone as a status symbol and likes to have his car “thumping” with the latest tunes. These solutions don’t seem to go anywhere beyond that market, whether with other mobile-phone platforms or other online-media applications like Internet-radio streams.

Ford  have developed the MyFord sophisticated dashboard and online telematics system and were demonstrating it at this show. This will work with a user-supplied 3G modem and also supports WiFi router functionality. Typically, this will be rolled out to the top-end of Ford’s US market, such as the Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.

Digital Photography

The new cameras of this year have seen improved user-interfaces, including the use of touchscreen technology and some manufacturers are toying with the use of fuel-cell technology as a power-supply method.

As far as network integration goes, Canon have enabled their EOS 7D digital SLR with this functionality once equipped with the optional Canon WiFi adaptor. This solution even provides for DLNA media-playback functionality.

The aftermarket Eye-Fi WiFi SD memory card was shown as a version, known as the Pro Series, that can associate with 802.11n networks.

The unanswered question with network-enabled digital photography hardware is how and whether these solutions will suit the needs of many professional photographers.  The main questions include whether the units will associate with many different wireless networks that the photographer visits without them having to re-enter the network’s security parameters. Another question is whether these solutions can work with higher-security WPA2-Enterprise networks, which is of importance with photographers working in most business, government and education setups.

Computer equipment

“New Computing Experience” alive and well in the US market. Market interested in powerful lightweight laptops that are slightly larger than netbooks. These will be driven by processors that are energy-efficient but are powerful. They could become an all-round portable computer that could appeal to college students and the like or simply as a desktop replacement. The machines that I think of most with this market are the Apple Macbook Pro comoputers that are in circulation, the HP Envy series or the smaller VAIO computers.

Nearly all of these computers that are being launched at the show are running Windows 7, which shows that the operating system will gain more traction through the next system-upgrade cycle.

USB 3.0

There has been some more activity on the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed front.

Western Digital had released an external hard disk that works on this standard, which is known as the MyBook 3.0. This my typically be slow as far as peripherals go because of not much integration in to the computer scene. VIA have also shown a USB 3.0 4-port hub as a short-form circuit, but this could lead to USB 3.0 hubs appearing on the market this year.

ASUS and Gigabyte have released motherboards that have USB 3.0 controllers and sockets on board. These may appeal to system builders and independent computer resellers who may want to differentiate their desktop hardware, as well as to “gaming-rig” builders who see USB 3.0 as bragging rights at the next LAN party. None of the laptop OEMs have supplied computers with USB 3.0 yet.

As far as the general-purpose operating systems (Windows, MacOS X, Linux) go, none of them have native USB 3.0 integrated at the moment but this may happen in the next service lifecycle of the major operating systems.

Some more benefits have been revealed including high-speed simultaneous data transfer (which could benefit external hard disks and network adaptors) and increased power efficiency, especially for portable applications.

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Google takes on the iPhone with the Android platform

Over the past few years, the coolest phone to be “seen with” was the Apple iPhone and and you were even considered “more cool” if your iPhone was filled with many apps downloaded from the iTunes App Store. Some people even described the iPhone as an “addiction” and there has often been the catchcry “an app for every part of your life” for the iPhone. I have covered the iPhone platform a few times, mainly mentioning a few iPhone-based DLNA media servers and controllers and the “I Am Safe” iPhone app. Other smartphone platforms like the Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile platforms fell by the wayside even though hardware manufacturers and the companies standing behind the platforms were trying to raise awareness of the platforms.

Then, over the last year, Google was developing a Linux-based embedded-device platform known as the Android platform, with a view to making it compete with the Apple iPhone. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show has become awash with smartphones, MIDs, smartbooks and other hardware based on this platform.

The main advantage of this platform is that it is a totally free, open-source platform which allows for standards-based smartphone and embedded-device development. At the moment, there is only one phone – the Nexus One – available on the general market. Other phones that have been talked about include the Motorola “Droids” which have their name focused on the Android operating system. But if these other devices that are being put up during the show are made available on the market, this could lead to a competitive marketplace for smartphone platforms.

Even the app-development infrastructure has been made easier for developers in some respects. For example, developers are able to design a user-interface that works properly on different handset screen sizes. This makes things easier for Android handset builders who want to differentiate their units with screen sizes. A good question to ask is whether a developer is allowed to bring their technology like a codec that they have developed or licensed to their project without having to make the technology “open-source”. This may be of concern to the likes of Microsoft if they want to port their technology to the Android platform. Similarly, would an app developer have to make their projects “open-source”, which may be of concern to games developers who have a lot at stake?

Once the Android platform becomes established, this could “spark up” Microsoft, Symbian and Blackberry to put their handset platforms on the map and encourage further innovation in the handset and embedded-devices sector.

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Skype videoconferencing coming soon to regular TV sets

Skype goes living room, embeds on LG, Panasonic HDTVs

Skype, toujours interdit sur 3G, investit les écrans de TV – DegroupNews (France – French language)

Skype Wants to Make Your TV More Social – GigaOM / NewTeeVee (USA)

Skype offers living room TV action – The Register (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Get Skype On Your TV – Skype Blogs

My comments on this topic

Previously, I had written in this blog about the use of videoconferencing, especially Skype and Windows Live Messenger as a way for families separated by distance to stay in touch. This also included reference to a previously-broadcast television news article about this technology being used to bring older relatives who were at rest homes or supported-accommodation facilities closer to their families. The newscast showed images of the older relative at the supported-accommodation facility celebrating a birthday with the relatives who appeared on a large flat-screen TV set up as a videophone.

In that article. I had talked about integrating your flat-screen TV with your PC for video conferencing by linking your computer to the television via its VGA or HDMI inputs or integrating an older CRT-based TV using its composite or S-Video inputs so many people can benefit from the larger screen.

Over the last few days, I had read some articles about an announcement that Skype had made concerning integrating its functionality into regular “brown-goods” TV sets and associated equipment. The main thrust of this was to implement 720p HD Skype videoconferencing; and with selected Panasonic “VieraCast” and LG “NetCast Entertainment Access” TV sets, you add a webcam supplied by the set’s manufacturer to the sets and connect them to your home network to enable “PC-less” video conferencing. This definitely will appeal to people who find setting up or operating computers very intimidating and may also appeal to those of us who cannot stand the sight of computer equipment in the main lounge area and believe that computer equipment belongs in the den or study.

This will appeal to families who have distant relatives and want to use the TV located in the lounge room or family room to keep in touch with these relatives without much in the way of setup headaches. Similarly, these sets could lower the startup and ongoing costs involved with videoconferencing facilities for places involved with the care of senior citizens because the Skype-equipped TV sets will need very little in the way of staff-training and support costs. It will also appeal to small businesses, farmers and the like because they can benefit from “big-business” videoconferencing at a “small-business” price without “big-business” setup hassles.

As I have said before, this could be extended to other “advanced-TV” platforms like most of the “set-top-box” platforms such as TiVo so that people who have video equipment based on these platforms could benefit from this form of video conferencing without having to add extra boxes or replace their existing TV sets.

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Ethernet AV – What could it mean for the home media network?

 Will home networks bank on Ethernet?

One of the next points of research that will be appearing for the home network is “Ethernet AV” or “AV-optimised networking”. The main goal with this research is to deliver time-sensitive content like music or video over an Ethernet-based network so it appears at each endpoint at the same time with the bare minimum of jitter or latency.

This research is being pitched at any application where a data network may be used to transport AV information. In the home, this could include multi-room installations where the same programme may be available in different rooms or multi-channel setups where a Cat5 Ethernet, Wi-Fi or HomePlug network link may be used to distribute sound to the rear-channel speakers. In a vehicle or boat, the Cat5 Ethernet cable could be used as an alternative to analogue preamp-level or speaker-level cable runs to distribute audio signals to the back of the vehicle or through the craft. The same method of moving AV signals can appeal to live-audio setups as the digital equivalent of the “snake” – a large multi-core cable used to run audio signals between the stage and the mixing desk that is located at the back of the audience. It can also appeal to the use of IP networks as the backbone for broadcast applications, whether to deliver the signal to an endpoint installed in a home network like an Internet radio or IPTV set-top box; or to work as a backbone between the broadcast studios and multiple outputs like terrestrial radio/TV transmitters and/or cable/satellite services.

The main object of the research is to establish a “master clock” for each logical AV broadcast streams within the home network that represents a piece of programme material. This then allows the endpoints (displays, speakers) to receive the same signal packets at the same time no matter how many bridges or switches the packets travel between the source and themselves.

Once this goal is achieved at the Ethernet level of the OSI stack, it could permit one to implement software in a router to provide Internet broadcast synchronisation for endpoints in a logical network pointing to the same stream. This means that if, in the case of Internet radio, there are two or more Internet-radio devices pointing to one Internet broadcast stream, they appear to receive the stream in sync even if one of the devices is on the wireless segment and another is on the Cat5 Ethernet segment.

This issue will need to be resolved in conjunction with the quality-of-service issue so that time-sensitive VoIP and audio/video applications can have priority over “best-effort” bulk data applications like e-mail and file transfer. Similarly, the UPnP AV / DLNA standards need to implement a quality-of-service differentiation mechanism for bulk transfer compared to media playback because there is the idea of implementing these standards to permit media-file transfer applications like multi-location media-library synchronisation and portable-device-to-master-library media transfer. Here, bulk transfer can simply be based on simple “best-effort” file practices while the time-critical media synchronisation can take place using higher QoS setups.

The other issue that may need to be resolved over the years is the issue of assuring quality-of-service and AV synchronisation over “last-mile” networks like DOCSIS cable, ADSL and FTTH so that IP broadcasting can be in a similar manner to classic RF-based broadcasting technologies. This also includes using the cost-effective “last-mile” technologies for studio-transmitter backbone applications, especially if the idea is to serve “infill” transmitters that cover dead spots in a broadcaster’s coverage area or to feed small cable-TV networks.

Once these issues are sorted out, then the reality of using an IP network for transmitting media files can be achieved.

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Buyer’s Guide – Entry-level wireless routers

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Netgear DG834G ADSL2 wireless router

Are you thinking of moving away from the single desktop PC or laptop connected to the broadband Internet via a single-port modem using an Ethernet cable? Are you planning to head down the path of the “new computing environment” where you use a laptop computer that you can take around the house yet still remain connected to the Internet? Do network-enabled gadgets like Internet radios or WiFi digital picture frames appeal to you?

If so, you will need to buy and install a wireless router and these can be purchased for a small amount of money, typically under AUD$110 or US$60. This may also appeal to people who may want to “equip” their young-adult child who is leaving the family nest with one of these devices as well as a modest-specification laptop to study and “Facebook” on. In fact these routers can help you with saving money in the long term on your Internet connection especially if you aren’t interested in a “single-pipe triple-play” communications service.

The advice provided here will differ over time as manufacturers “push” features down to the entry-level wireless routers as newer technologies and standards are introduced to the home network.

What does the entry-level wireless router offer

Broadband (Internet) / WAN connection

Most entry-level wireless routers offer a connection for a wireline Internet service on the “Internet” or “broadband” side of the connection. This typically is in the form of an Ethernet connection marked as “Internet” or an integrated ADSL2 modem. They will support the access-authentication-accounting protocols being deployed by most of the Internet service providers including the big names in the marketplace.

The Ethernet-ended “broadband” routers will be primarily useful for people who sign up to Internet service where you have to use customer-premises equipment supplied by the Internet service provider. Such services typically include cable Internet (whether through the cable-TV set-top box or a separate modem), some ADSL Internet services, “next-generation Internet” such as fibre-optic services, or wireless-broadband that isn’t in the form of a USB-connected modem. If you do want to use regular ADSL service with these routers, you would have to purchase an ADSL modem that can work as a “bridge” (in the case of “wires-only” / “BYO modem” service) or configure supplier-provided ADSL equipment to work as such.

Saving money on setting up your Internet connection

Most ISPs, cable companies and telephone companies offer wireless home gateway devices at highly-inflated prices and are often set up so you don’t have much control over the device. In a lot of cases that I have observed, you may end up with equipment that. for example, won’t work properly with Skype or MSN Messenger because it won’t support the automatic port-forwarding functionality provided by UPnP IGD that is common with nearly all of the entry-level routers. As well, I have observed cases where the ISP-supplied wireless home gateway simply provides substandard performance or unreliable service; or simply is “technologically backward”.

If you intend to set up an ADSL-based Internet service, you buy a wireless router with an integrated ADSL2 modem; as well as the correct number of ADSL line or wallplate splitters for each phone socket in your home. Then you subscribe to an ADSL plan with a “wires-only” or “BYO modem” hardware option where you supply the customer-premises equipment i.e. the ADSL modem.

If you are setting up a cable-Internet service or similar service, you just need to purchase a “broadband” router with an Ethernet port for the Internet connection. Then you have the ISP who provides cable Internet provide you a cable modem with a single Ethernet port rather than their heavily-promoted wireless cable routers.  Your broadband bill will only reflect the cost of the single-port cable modem in the equipment tab.

Local network connection

The entry-level wireless router should have 4 Ethernet ports for use in connecting network hardware that uses Ethernet sockets. This also comes in handy with HomePlug powerline connections because you can connect your HomePlug-Ethernet bridge to one of these sockets and use the AC wiring as part of your home network.

Most of these units will have at least 802.11g WPA2 WiFi as their wireless connectivity, with some having 2.4GHz single-band 802.11n WPA2 WiFi providing this function. It may be preferable to go for a unit that supports WPS “quick-setup” connectivity so you can avoid frustration with setting up a secure wireless network. Some of these routers will use an integrated aerial while others will use one external aerial or, in some cases, two external aerials set up in “aerial-diversity” mode. The RF coverage for this network may suit the typical suburban house with timber or plasterboard interior walls based on a timber frame.

Functionality

Most of these routers will offer UPnP IGD functionality which allows programs like games and instant-messaging programs to establish links to the outside network without user intervention.

An increasing number of these routers will be equipped with a USB port that can be used for sharing peripherals over the home network. The applications that might be made available with this port will typically be printer sharing or file-server functionality using standard protocols and some of these routers may offer the ability to share a wireless-broadband modem as an Internet connection. But beware of those routers that use the port for “USB-over-IP” peripheral sharing where you have to run a “USB-over-IP” driver on each computer. Here, you would be limited to one computer being able to use the device at a time.

Best placement

These routers would suit households who are setting up their “new computing environment” with a laptop as their primary computer or are establishing their home network for the first time. This also includes people who may use a desktop computer connected to the unit via Ethernet and want to have a WiFi network segment for devices like electronic picture frames and Internet radios.

They may also suit secondary-home locations like holiday houses or city flats where you may not be doing much high-end Internet use like gaming.

If you do upgrade this router to a better unit, you can keep these units as a secondary wireless access point once you disable DHCP server and UPnP IGD functionality and allocate them an IP address within the same IP range as the router that you upgrade to has for the local network. Then you connect the router to the new network via the LAN ports. This can come in handy in the form of a dedicated WiFi-G (802.11g) network segment for a network that is moving to WiFi-N (802.11n) or simply as an extension access point for a WiFi-G network.

I wouldn’t recommend these routers as the network-Internet “edge” for small-business mission-critical use because of the inability to support high data throughput and mission-critical reliability. Nor would I recommend them for serious gamers who demand proper latency for their Internet fragfests.

Conclusion

Once you establish your first home network with an entry-level wireless router, you will wonder how you existed with the way you used the Internet before that.

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Microsoft Internet Explorer antitrust case resolved by European Union

 EU resolves Microsoft IE antitrust case | Microsoft – CNET News

From the horse’s mouth

European Union

Microsoft’s press release

My comments on this issue

Previously, there was talk of Microsoft having to supply European customers with “browser-delete” options for copies of Windows 7 operating system where they would have to explicitly download their browser of choice and wouldn’t be able to “get going” with Internet Explorer. Now, there is the requirement to provide a “browser-select” screen when you can install any of 12 alternative browsers and nominate one of the other browsers as the default browser. This will have the browsers organised in a random order so as not to favour Internet Explorer or a “browser-skin” with hooks to the Internet Explorer code.

One main improvement that I had liked about this is that you can deploy more than one browser from the “browser-select” screen, which will please Web-site developers who want to test their site in other browser environments. Similarly this will please users who are testing browsers for a proposed usage environment or replicating problems encountered with a particular browser.

It will be feasible for a computer supplier to “run with” a different default browser yet consumers can choose whichever browser suits them better. This would be more so with operations like Dell or the small independently-run High Street computer shops who build computers “to order” for individuals, rather than suppliers like HP/Compaq or Toshiba who build systems to particular packages to be sold through electronics chain stores.

The only issue is whether an individual or organisation can determine a particular browser as part of a Windows-based “standard operating environment” when they specify their computer equipment and not have to pass through the “browser-select” screen. Also, what will be the expectation for any proposed computer fleets and “standard operating environments”? Will the company who buys the computer equipment be able to determine which is the default browser for their environment or will they be required to allow individual staff members / end-users to choose which browser they are to work with? The reason I am raising this issue is because in some countries within the EEA like France, there is an organised-labour culture where the trade unions can exercise a lot of influence over what goes on in a workplace.

Another issue that may need to be raised is whether the European-specific “browser-choice” arrangements will be available outside of the European Economic Area. This may be of concern to independent system builders who may want to assure customers of browser choice as a differentiating factor or local, state or federal government departments who may want to be assured of this for computers supplied as part of their IT programs operating in their area or as part of a legislative requirement for their area. It may also be of benefit to PC users who want to load their computers with many browsers so as to, for example, test a Web site under many operating environments.

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Product Review – Kaspersky Internet Security 2010

This is my first Internet-security product review for this blog and this product class is a very competitive one, now that there are free “home edition” or “entry edition” programs being offered to Windows platform users from the likes of AVG, Avast and Microsoft. Kaspersky has been known to offer a line of affordable desktop and network security programs that have been built on a strong security platform and this program is no exception.

Installation and Use

The installation went ahead very smoothly and was able to draw attention to a clash between this program and my prior setup which was Windows Firewall as the desktop firewall solution and Avast Home Edition as the anti-malware solution, and offered to uninstall Avast Home Edition before installing itself.

Kaspersky - dashboard

Kaspersky's main operating console

The main software dashboard has a “traffic-light” bar at the top which glows green for a safe environment, yellow for situations that need your attention and red for dangerous environments. It uses a tabbed interface which can show information that pertains to particular aspects of the program. This dashboard can be minimised to a “red K” indicator located in the System Notification Area on the Taskbar and ends up being relative unobtrusive. If it needs to draw your attention, a coloured “pop-up” message shows near that area. You don’t even see “splash screens” when the program starts during the system’s boot cycle, unlike what happens with Norton AntiVirus and other computer-security software delivered as “crapware” with many Windows computers.

Kaspersky - notification bar

Notification Tray icon

The program does download many updates through the day because of the nature of the computer-security threats that evolve too quickly. This is typically indicated with a “globe” symbol underneath the “red K” indicator when the program is minimised to the System Notification Area.

Performance

Kaspersky’s performance under a “full-scan” situation is typical for may desktop computer-security applications because this involves reading files from the computer’s hard disk which is competitive with applications that need use of the hard disk. It had highlighted a password-protected executable file as a risk because of the fact that this can become a way of concealing malware.

The software’s “behind-the-scenes” behaviour can impinge on system performance if you are doing anything that is graphic intensive. But there is an option to have the program concede resources to other computing tasks.

Kaspersky - Gaming profile

Gaming Profile option

The program also has options available for optimising its behaviour to particular situations. For example, there is an option to disable scheduled scans when a laptop computer is running on batteries and a “gaming mode” which reduces its presence and can disable scheduled scans and updates when you are playing a full-screen game or video and you don’t want the program to interrupt you.

From what I have observed, Kaspersky does a very good job at maintaining a “sterile zone” for your computer. For example, if you plug in a USB memory key, the program will scan the memory key for malware. This is important with malware like the Conficker worm that has been attacking Windows computers and creeping on to USB memory keys.

Privacy protection and security options

There is an optional on-screen virtual keyboard that works against keystroke loggers which capture data from the hardware keyboard.It may not be a defence against keystroke loggers that capture the character stream that is received by an application or software that records on-screen activity.

There is also an anti-banner-ad module which may appeal only to those who “hear no ads, see no ads, speak no ads”. I wouldn’t use this for most Web browsing activities and you still need to be careful that you run only one “pop-up blocker” at a time. I would rather that this can be used to filter advertising that is used for “fly-by-night” offers.

The e-mail protection does work with Windows Live Mail but, if you want to run it as an anti-spam solution for any e-mail client, you have to have it list your mail on a separate screen so you can tell which mail is which. This feature may be useless if you are running multiple other anti-spam measures such as a spam filter integrated in to your mail client or provided as part of your email service.

Desktop content filter

I do have a personal reservation about desktop-based “parental-control” programs because these programs only control the content that arrives at the computer that they run on. This may be OK for situations where the Internet access is primarily on the general-purpose computer that they run on. It doesn’t suit an increasingly-real environment where Internet access is being done on other terminals such as smartphones, multifunction Internet devices, games consoles, and Internet-enabled TVs. Here, I would prefer a “clean feed” that is provided as an option in the Internet service or the content-filtering software to be installed in a very fast router. The desktop filter can work well if a computer is taken to places like hotspots that don’t provide a filtered Internet service.

The content control is also limited to few categories such as the “usual suspects” (porn, gambling, drugs, violence, weapons, explicit language). There isn’t the ability to filter on “hatred” and “intolerance” sites which may be a real issue in today’s world, although the weapons and violence categories may encompass some of that material. I would like to see more granular filtering to suit different age groups and needs.

Nice to have

A feature that this program could have is management of interface to UPnP IGD routers. This could include identifying port-forward requests by applications and checking that these port-forward requests are destroyed when the application is stopped. This could include destroying port-forward requests when the application crashes or clearing all port-forward requests when the system starts so as to clean up port-forwarding “holes” left when a UPnP-enabled application or the system crashes. This is because I have noticed port-forward settings being left standing when an instant-messaging application, game or similar UPnP-enabled application crashes and the router’s UPnP port-forward list has settings from these prior sessions still open. This can provide various back door opportunities to exist for hackers and botnets to operate.

Macintosh users are looked after by Kaspersky through the “Kaspersky AntiVirus For Mac” program which provides virus protection for that platform. It doesn’t provide the full Internet security options that this program has to offer but there may be a desktop firewall built in to MacOS X which can protect against Internet hacks.

As far as the desktop content filter is concerned, I would like to see increased filtering options like an option to filter out “hatred” / “intolerance” sites; and “games and sports” for business needs. There should also be the ability to set up granular filtering options to suit different user needs.

Conclusion

This program may be a valid option for those of us who want to pay for “that bit more” out of our computer security software and want to go beyond the operating-system-standard desktop firewall and the free anti-virus programs like AVG and Avast.

Statement of benefit: I have been provided with the 3-computer 2-year subscription which is worth AUD$159.95 including GST (street price $84 including GST) as a complementary product in order for me to review it.

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The rise of the “multimedia router”

Links

New multimedia router up before FCC – clock radio (FM+Internet), access to online video services, media playback from local storage – http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/09/qisda-sourced-multimedia-router-hits-the-fcc/

D-Link DIR-685 router with electronic picture frame – http://www.dlink.com.au/Products.aspx?Sec=1&Sub1=2&Sub2=5&PID=388

My comments on this new device class

What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.

What is this product class

This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.

The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.

They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.

Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market

These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.

Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.

What the device class needs

The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.

They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.

These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.

Conclusion

Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.

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thinkbroadband :: Northern Ireland to provide 2-10Mbps Universal Service by mid-2011

thinkbroadband :: Northern Ireland to provide 2-10Mbps Universal Service by mid-2011

My comments on this topic

The steps that the Northern Ireland government are taking to meet the UK’s goals of achieving a baseline broadband standard of 2Mbps for rural areas and 10Mbps for urban areas by 2011 are at least a positive step in the right direction for affordable fast Internet for all. Yet there are certain questions that need to be answered regarding any of these ambitious service-improvement projects/

One issue that always perplexes me is whether rural end-users get at least 2Mbps at the door or is the throughput measured arbitrarily up the wire. This also includes the issue of phone-line quality in these rural areas because, as I have seen many times in these areas, the quality of broadband service, let alone dial-up modem service or even voice telephony isn’t consistent because of the older infrastructure that commonly exists in these areas. Some larger rural properties may have the main house set back from the point of entry for the telephone cable and it may be too easy to measure the ADSL throughput at that point, rather than at a phone point in the main house.

Another question is what qualifies as an urban area for applying the 10Mbps standard for minimum bandwidth. This can encompass situations such as the peripheral neighbourhoods of a large town or whenever more people move in to a smaller town that would have been deemed “rural” and this town grows significantly.

In the urban context, this standard needs to be “set in stone” in order to prevent “redlining-out” of neighbourhoods that are considered to be “poor” from the broadband service area.

At least this is in the right direction to helping Northern Ireland achieve the standard of broadband called for in the UK mainland.

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Facebook – Who sees what I write and where do I write that post

I have been approached by Facebook newbies (novices) about messages that they write or read as part of their Facebook sessions and have thought about publishing this “at-a-glance” guide about who sees what you write. Feel free to print this off and pin it near your computer or keep the permalink as a ready URL on your browser’s Favourites / Bookmarks or intranet page. Nowadays the Facebook Wall is referred to as a Timeline but still serves the same purpose.

When I write here on Facebook, who sees it?

Place Intended Recipient Other readers
My Wall (Timeline), as a Status Update Myself My Facebook Friends
My Facebook Friend’s Wall (Timeline) My Facebook Friend My Facebook Friends, The correspondent’s Facebook Friends
“Send <Facebook Friend’> a message” The Facebook Friend who is receiving the message No-one
A conversation with my Facebook Friend in Facebook Chat The Facebook Friend at the other end of the chat
The Wall (Timeline) of a Group I am a member of All Facebook users who are members of that Group My Facebook Friends
The Wall (Timeline) of a Page I am a Fan of – Just Fans Facebook users who visit the “Just Fans” tab of the Page
Comments that you leave about a Post on the Wall (Timeline) Facebook Friends who can see the Post Your Facebook Friends – reference to comment, details if they click through

Where should I write this in Facebook?

Object of Conversation Where to write Notes
Direct private message to correspondent “Send Correspondent A Message” Arrives in correspondent’s Facebook Inbox
Facebook Chat (if they are online)
Message to correspondent which isn’t intended to be confidential Correspondent’s Wall (Timeline) Appears on my Wall and my Correspondent’s wall
General comment or broadcast message My Wall (Timeline) Think carefully before you write. You may intend it for your Facebook Friends but the wrong comment may be perceived by a Facebook newbie (novice) as embarrassing in front of their Friends.
Comment in response to a Status Update, Photo, Link or whatever you see on Facebook Comments option for the Status Update, etc Think carefully before you leave that comment. As above, it may be intended to the author of the comment, posted photo, etc but the wrong comment may be perceived as embarrassing or hurtful.
Message for a Group or Fans of a Page The Group’s Wall (Timeline) or the “Just Fans” part of a Page

Free PDF file of this information sheet available here to print or copy to your smartphone, tablet or e-reader.

Printing hints: Print each page on separate sheets for attaching to a wall or noticeboard near the computer, or print using your printer’s automatic duplex function for use as a page to keep in a loose-leaf reference folder.

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