You need to have access to the latest data representing your computer’s operating system, device drivers and allied software from its manufacturer as a recovery image to simplify any repair / restore efforts or to get your “new toy” up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Recent computers that run MacOS or Windows now come with a partition on their hard disk or SSD that has a copy of the operating system and other software they come with the computer “out of the box”. Or there is the ability to download a recovery image for your computer from the manufacturer’s Website using a manufacturer-supplied app.
It is in lieu of the previous method of delivering an optical disc with the computer that has the operating system and other manufacturer0-supplied software thanks to newer computers not being equipped with optical drives.
Here, this recovery data comes in to play if the operating system fails and you have to reinstate it from a known good copy. An example of this could be the computer being taken over by malware or you need to get it back to “ground zero” before relinquishing it. Or the system disk (hard disk or SSD) fails and you have to put the operating system on a new system disk as part of reconstructing your computing environment.
But Microsoft, Apple and the hardware manufacturers associated with your computer’s internal peripherals update their software regularly as part of their software quality control. There are often the feature updates that add functionality or implement newer device-class drivers that are part of an operating system’s lifecycle.
What typically happens is this recovery image represents the software that came with your computer when it left the factory. It doesn’t include all the newer updates and revisions that took place. Here, if you have had to restore the operating system from that recovery image, you will then have to download the updates from your computer’s manufacturer, the operating system vendor or other software developers to have your computer up-to-date.
The firmware / BIOS updates may not matter due to them being delivered as a “download-to-install” package. This means that when these packages are run, they verify and shift the necessary firmware code to the BIOS / UEFI subsystem for the computer or the firmware subsystems for peripherals supported by the computer’s manufacturer, then subsequently commence and install the installation process.
Questions that can be raised include whether the factory-supplied data should be maintained as the definitive “reference data” for your system. Or whether the computer manufacturer is to provide a means to keep the software up-to-date with the latest versions for your computer.
This will be an issue with manufacturers who prefer to customise the software drivers that run hardware associated with their computer products while end-users prefer to run the latest software drivers offered by the hardware’s manufacturer. This is typically due to the hardware manufacturer’s code being updated more frequently and is of concern with display chipsets like Intel’s integrated-graphics chipsets.
Similarly there is the issue that people are likely to change the software edition that comes with their computer like upgrading to a “Pro” edition of the Windows operating system when the computer came with the Home edition.
An approach that a manufacturer can take over a computer system’s lifetime is to revise the definitive “reference data” set for that system. This could be undertaken when the operating system undergoes a major revision like a feature update. This can be about taking stock of the device drivers and updating them to newer stable code as part of offering the latest “reference data” set.
That allows a user who is doing an operating-system recovery doesn’t need to hunt for and download updates as part of this process if they want the computer running the latest code.
This kind of approach can also come in to its own during the time that the computer system is on the market. It means that during subsequent years, newer computer units receive the latest software updates before they leave the factory. This is so that the computer’s end-user or corporate IT department don’t have to download the latest versions of the operating system, device drivers and other software as part of commissioning their new computer system.
The idea of computer manufacturers keeping their products’ software-recovery data current will benefit all of us whether we are buying that new computer and want to get that “new toy” running or need to reinstate the operating software in our computers due to hardware or software failures.
It will be hard for the traditional landline telephone service to disappear from our lives altogether. This is even though an increasing number of households are using mobile phones for their voice communications. The Parks Associates report was written with the past year in mind thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus plague having most of us around the world housebound.
At the moment, most telcos and ISPs are offering the traditional landline telephone service as part of one or more multiple-play telecommunications packages. These packages encompass a combination of services including:
landline telephone service,
fixed broadband Internet,
multichannel pay TV,
mobile telephone service
mobile broadband Internet
Often the landline telephony service is anchored to a “cheap-to-call-the-nation” tariff plan where you can make many calls and talk for a long time on these calls per month to home and business telephone numbers within your country. A lot of these plans even offer unlimited phone calls to regular home and business numbers at least for the cost of the subscription fee.
There are also some of these plans offering the ability to call mobile phones based within your country for dirt cheap prices or as unlimited-calling destinations. The plans will even have international calling packages that make it cheap to call the world, especially landlines and, perhaps, mobile numbers in the popular countries, from your landline service.
How is the landline telephone service now delivered?
Increasingly such services are being delivered as a hybrid VoIP service rather than the traditional circuit-switched voice telephony service associated with the Plain Old Telephone Service.
An increasing number of routers offered by telcos and ISPs support Fixed Line IP out of the box, serving as a VoIP DECT base station and / or VoIP analogue-telephone adaptor
The first method, typically used with packet-only network transports like DOCSIS-based cable modems, fibre-to-the-premises fibre optic, fibre-to-the-building fibre-optic with Ethernet cabling to the premises, fixed-wireless or even naked/dry-loop DSL is known as Fixed Line IP. Here you have a traditional telephone connected to an analogue-telephony-adaptor, a DECT-based cordless telephone using an IP-driven DECT base station or a dedicated VoIP telephone connected to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The analogue-telephony adaptor and/or IP-based DECT base station will be likely to be integrated in your home network router especially if it comes from your telco or ISP.
This setup may also include the use of a “softphone” app that runs on your regular computer or smartphone. Here, this software emulates an IP-based fixed-line telephone on one of these computing devices so you can take calls from your fixed-line service with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer. Such apps are used with business telephony setups but are being considered of value for small-business and residential telephony services provided using Fixed Line IP.
Infact the Fixed Line IP service is now considered the way to deliver traditional voice telephony due to it being media-agnostic. As well, it plays in to telecommunications platforms where infrastructure and service are provided by different entities like what we are seeing with the UK’s Openreach, Australia’s NBN and New Zealand’s Chorus; along with the rise of independent infrastructure providers providing competitive wholesale telecommunications service.
Newer smartphones are offering Wi-Fi calling, delivering cellular mobile telephony via any Wi-Fi network you are connected to with them
The other method is to use Wi-Fi Calling where a cellular telephony service is provided by Wi-Fi through your home or other network. This is equivalent to a traditional cellular telephony service with your mobile number ringing on your Wi-Fi-Calling enabled smartphone no matter whether it is connected via Wi-Fi or the mobile network. Recent iterations of iOS and Android provide native support for Wi-Fi calling.
The landline telephone service and voice telephony in general is being used as a way to keep in touch with family and friends and to avoid social isolation. This especially appeals to communities whose constituents haven’t adapted to mobile telephone or online services, something that is typical of some religious communities and schools.
Working or running a business from home can also appeal to some users as a reason to maintain a traditional fixed telephony service. This may be in conjunction to maintaining a mobile telephony service that is kept for calling while away from home. As well, most tax codes will accept the establishment and maintenance of telecommunications services associated with working or running a business as legitimately-deductable business expenses.
Voice telephony is being seen as a key modality for providing any sort of telehealth services. This reduces frustration associated with establishing and running a videocall. It is also more familiar for people who need medical help.
Older people are the key user groups who value the traditional fixed telephone, Here, it is a very familiar service for them as these services became ubiquitous in everyone’s homes since the end of World War II. As well, the landline telephone service is considered by the national emergency numbers like 911 in the USA, 999 in the UK or 000 in Australia as a sure-fire link to emergency help through these numbers. This is typically due to setups like mapping landline numbers that call emergency numbers to physical addresses.
Increasingly the concept of unified communication services is being exposed to small business and home users with all the features associated with big-business telephony. This has been a trend with the history of telecommunications evolved from business use to home use as associated products and services became cheaper to buy and operate. The provision of unified communication services to this user class is being maintained as part of differentiating residential and small-business telecommunications packages in a highly competitive market.
As well, the traditional landline service is still seen as a lifeline. This is more so with elderly people, rural residents and low-income households due to it being part of the universal telephone service.
Why is the landline still relevant?
The landline telephone service is still seen as relevant due to a significant installed user base. As I have said before this is facilitated with service upgrades that are part of multi-play service packages.
There is a familiarity associated with using a landline telephone service especially for people who have grown up with this kind of telephone service. Here, it underscores a simple user experience whether making or taking phone calls.
The landline telephone service is still affordable to use which appeals to low-income communities. This is due to it being part of the standard definition of a universal telephone service and the fact that it is also offered as a very cheap service as part of the multiple-play service packages.
Where a traditional wired telephone is used as part of this service, a landline telephone service’s quality-of-service is independent of your building’s structure. Here, you are not finding that double-brick, sandstone or cinder block walls are interfering with your phone service’s reception. It also yields consistent voice quality which isn’t dependent on wireless signals.
The landline phone service can effectively serve in a load-balancing capacity for voice traffic where it is used alongside mobile telephony services. Typically this would be achieved by a person ringing someone’s landline phone number when their attempt to ring someone’s mobile number fails to an “out-of-range” or “busy” condition. This may he due to situations like a dead battery in the user’s mobile phone.
It is still preferred to deliver life-critical communications services through the landline telephone service due to it being related to physical addresses. Fixed-line IP services and cordless telephones will face trouble with devices that are dependent on continual power supply available at the customer’s premises.
The future of the traditional landline telephone service
A direction that will come about for the traditional landline phone service is to move towards device-agnostic phone services and the popularisation of big-business-style telephony services in the home and small business. What I mean is that it doesn’t matter whether the endpoint device for these services is a phone associated with a fixed-line telephony service or a mobile phone associated with a cellular telephony service. This will be due to varying factors like people working or running businesses and organisations from home; independently-managed phone services, and the like.
It will also include the ability for a user to maintain different telephone numbers for different purposes with each number ringing on whatever devices the user chooses to have them ring on with a distinct ringtone or ring cadence and in a chosen order. It is rather than having a phone number for a class of phone service ringing on a particular endpoint device. The classic setup example would be to keep a public-facing “business” phone number and a separate “personal” number given out only to family and friends.
The setups could allow a number to simultaneously ring on selected devices like a cordless phone and a mobile phone, or have a number ring on one device first for a certain amount of time then another device until the call is picked up. Other business features that will appear include the ability to move a call between devices whether they be fixed-line or mobile or answer a ringing phone using another device.
There will even be enhanced call filtering features to deal with robocalls, telephone sales calls and the like. This may include abilities to shoehorn the filtering process to suit a particular user’s needs.
But the future for voice telephony would be about having multiple phone services delivered via a single physical link with the feasibility to have multiple calls taking place over the same link.
As well, the increased bandwidth will allow for voice quality to be as good as AM radio, if not as good as FM radio or better. This will be a feature that benefits people who have, for example, difficult-to-understand accents.
Let’s not forget that for residential and small-business users voice telephony, whether on a fixed device or a mobile device, will be part of a personalised unified or converged telecommunications service that also encompasses text-based chat, video telephony, user presence notification and similar features.
There also has to be a simple yet secure configuration approach for these phone services so that users can set them up to suit their needs exactly and be sure the setup is kept secure.
But at least the traditional landline telephone service is still maintaining some relevance in this day and age. This is even though it is packaged in a new way such as with a multiple-play broadband package or as an IP-based pre-packaged voice-telephony service. As well, these voice-telephony services will be delivered in a manner that is independent of whether the endpoint device is installed at your premises or something you take around town.
Increasingly, a significant number of laptop-computer users set up a desktop-based workspace to use their computer at. With this arrangement, they equip the workspace with a full-sized keyboard and mouse alongside a large screen, with the computing power taking place inside the portable computer.
Why a desktop workspace for your laptop computer
The establishment of a desktop workspace for your portable computer is primarily about creating an ergonomic environment with full-sized input devices and larger screens that can stand long work sessions.
Some users may find this more important with ultraportable computers that use a smaller keyboard or omit things like numeric keypads. Similarly, you may find that a full-sized mouse may have work better for you than just relying on the computer’s trackpad.
Increasingly this arrangement appeals to the idea of running two screens thus creating a larger visual workspace. In most cases, this can be achieved through the use of a desktop monitor along with the laptop’s own display with them both set up to be a single display.
The laptop still is portable for use in the lounge during winter
Here you don’t lose the flexibility associated with using a laptop computer thanks to its portability. For example, your computing arrangements can suit the seasons at home if you have a good outdoor space that you use when it’s warm or you have a solid-fuel fire or a heater which conveys the look of a fire that you use when it’s cold. Or you can use a café or similar location as your “secondary office” when you want to work away from distraction. But you then are able to head back to your primary workspace where you want to benefit from what it offers.
Where is it relevant
A fully-equipped desktop workspace for your laptop computer is relevant to one or more areas you place a significant amount of your working time at. For a work-home laptop, this could be at your desk at the office you work at as well as your home office if you maintain this space. It will also have a strong appeal to those of us who run small businesses or community organisations with a physical shopfront but do a significant amount of the “homework” associated with running the organisation at home.
It also appeals to the “hot-desk” concept where different users end up using the same workspace but want to bring their computer, therefore their data, to that workspace. This is a significant trend that is being encouraged in new-style workplaces who are moving towards practices like telecommuting. But it also appeals to situations where, for example, members of your family want to use a fully-equipped workspace to do a significant project.
Similarly you can create multiple desktop workspaces with this kind of setup at different locations. I mentioned this earlier in the context of a “work-home” laptop taken between your workplace / business premises and your home.
But this can also extend to a secondary residence like a holiday or seasonal home, whereupon you can establish a similar desktop workspace to use with your laptop computer at that location. Or this could be about a similar workspace set up in a study for your older children to use while completing their assignments and projects on their laptops.
Here, you may end up “pushing down” older equipment that has mileage left in it to this secondary workspace as you buy newer better equipment for your primary workspace. Examples of this would be to upgrade to a more capable USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 dock or a better monitor while your existing USB-C dock or monitor ends up at the secondary residence.
Most of the equipment will be similar to what you would equip a standard desktop computer with but you may have to be particular about the connectivity issue concerning your laptop computer.
Full size mice can earn their keep here at your primary workspace
You will need to equip your desktop workspace with a full-sized keyboard and a full-sized mouse or other input device. Here, make sure you choose the keyboard or input device you are comfortable with. Be aware that if you find that the travel-sized mouse can suit your needs equally for continual use as a full-size mouse, so be it.
These can be either wired or wireless with the former requiring a USB Type-A port on the computer for each wired device. Or the latter can be wireless, either using a transceiver dongle that plugs in to the computer’s USB Type-A port or Bluetooth which uses the laptop’s Bluetooth interface.
Some of the wireless “desktop sets” which consist of a keyboard and mouse in one package may allow one transceiver dongle to work with both the keyboard and mouse. But with Bluetooth you don’t need to deal with transceiver dongles because you are using the computer’s Bluetooth interface.
LG’s 32″ 4K monitor with HDR10 – larger monitors like these are relevant for the desktop workspace
If you have a 2-in-1, especially of the convertible type, you may find that having it set up in the “viewer” or “tent” mode will allow you to have a screen without its keyboard or trackpad being active. You may have to make sure Windows 10 is operating in “desktop” mode if you are using the external keyboard and input device.
As well, a good-quality display monitor with the screen size you are comfortable with and resolution that suits your needs can work well as your main or secondary display. The secondary display can come in to its own by providing an increased screen size and you may find that you have to use a laptop stand or bracket that suits your computer in order to prop your computer up to screen level.
If the monitor has its own speakers and connects to the setup via HDMI or DisplayPort including USB-C DisplayPort alt, you will need to have the default sound device being the laptop’s graphics-infrastructure display-audio device. Preferably in this case, the monitor should have an external audio output if you want to use headphones or a better sound setup with it.
Having a 2-in-1 like this Dell Inspiron set up in viewer mode like this and using it with a keyboard and mouse may be a starting point for an enhanced workspace
Most operating systems will have the ability to have the screens work as either a copy of each other or as though they are one large display. It is in addition to setting up your computer to only use the external monitor as its display rather than its internal one. In this case, you may want to have the screens work as one large display if you value the increased desktop real estate or simply use your large monitor as your working display at your main workspace.
You can even go about having both screens as one large display but use the laptop’s built-in screen to “park aside” windows that you aren’t working with while you have the larger screen for what you are currently focusing on. That would be effective for those of us who use a 12”-14″ ultraportable as part of this setup.
This Creative Labs Stage Air soundbar and similar desktop speakers could provide the sound for your desktop workspace
This can be satisfied through the use of desktop speakers, including a desktop soundbar like what Creative Labs offers. Or that old amplifier or receiver connected to a pair of bookshelf speakers can do the trick. In the same way, that 1980s-era “ghetto blaster” that has a selectable line input can answer the same need.
The speakers or amplifier can be connected to your laptop’s or monitor’s headphone or line-out jack or you may want to use an outboard sound module for this purpose. You may find that that the dock you use to provide one-cable connectivity to your laptop will have a built-in sound module that has very similar functionality to a USB sound module.
But the standalone sound modules are more likely to have better audio connectivity or audio reproduction electronics. Here, this may be of benefit for those of you who have a home-office “den” that is equipped with high-quality audio equipment or you are using turntables or tape decks to salvage legacy media to digital form.
Such a setup may work well if you want better sound at your primary workspace and don’t want to rely on the laptop’s tinny built-in loudspeakers there. This would be important if you listen to music, watch videos or play games using that workspace.
These portable USB hard disks are seen as a way to expand storage capacity for your workspace
You can also get by with using a USB hard disk or solid-state-storage device not just as a data-backup device but to offload data that you won’t be needing to keep on your laptop’s own storage subsystem. This will be of importance with those computers that use a small SSD as their onboard storage. On the other hand, a network-attached storage could serve the same purpose as a data-backup or offload storage device. This is more important if you want to keep multimedia data available to your home network.
If you deal with optical disks like DVDs or Blu-Rays, you may find that a USB optical drive compatible with the disks you deal with may work well for this setup. This is more so if you are using the disks primarily at your desk, perhaps primarily to archive data; or simply want to play CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays through your computer including ripping them to the computer’s storage subsystem. The same goes for other legacy removeable media like floppy disks or ZIP disks whereupon you use USB-connected drives for gaining access to data stored there.
A USB optical drive can come in handy here if you use CDs, DVDs or similar discs at all.
Some of you may find that keeping a highly-portable USB hard-disk / SSD and/or optical drive may answer your needs if you are intending to use them on the road. This may be about moving photos you take with your camera off your laptop or watching a DVD or Blu-Ray during the long-haul flight. In the case of secondary residences or similar premises, you may prefer to take the highly-portable USB storage device with you when you leave so your backup or offload data stored there is safe with you.
You may find that if you have an Ethernet connection near your workspace, you may want to connect your laptop to the network and Internet via Ethernet rather than Wi-Fi wireless. In most cases, this will allow high-throughput low-latency network and Internet connection and you may come across this if you have located your router in that workspace, wired your home for Ethernet or your business has wired Ethernet infrastructure.
This situation is answered through the use of a USB-based Ethernet network adaptor that plugs in to your computer’s Ethernet ports. But a lot of well-bred USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks have this function built in to them. Let’s not forget that you may find that your laptop has its own Ethernet port especially if it is a mainstream business or gaming unit.
Connecting many devices
The question that will come up frequently is how do I connect the many devices to my computer especially if it has fewer ports. Usually this would be about connecting and disconnecting many cables as you bring your computer to this workspace
Hubs and docks
To simplify this process, you may find that a USB hub or dock (expansion module) may come in to its own here.
A typical USB hub
A hub will have a number of USB ports for use with USB peripherals while a dock will have a range of different connections and interface circuitry for different devices. You may find that your monitor may have some of this functionality built in to it and this can be a real boon because you don’t have to deal with a separate box. It will be more so if you are dealing with a USB-C monitor.
Here, you connect all of your peripherals that would be normally connected to your computer to this device. Then you have a cable that connects the hub or dock to your computer to expose all those peripherals to it and its operating system. Previously these used a USB 3 Type-A connector but most of them now use a USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 connector due to the high data throughput and, in some cases, power-supply functionality that they offer.
A USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 dock like this Dell WD19TB dock is relevant for this kind of workspace
If your computer supports USB Type C or Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, these devices come in to their own with a DisplayPort “pass-through” monitor connection. In a significant number of cases, you will find that the hub or dock comes with a power supply and works to USB Power Delivery specifications. This will mean that you will be able to keep your laptop’s power supply in your laptop bag rather than always bringing it out when you want to work at home. With the power capacity, I would look for something that is at least 45 watts in order to cover most computers’ needs.
On the other hand, if your computer doesn’t have a USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3 connection, you will have to connect your external monitor directly to the computer’s display socket. Some of the USB 3.0 docks will have a display connection of some sort and this will be facilitated through the DisplayLink standard which “pipes” the video output from your computer’s graphics infrastructure via the USB 3.0 output to the display connection. This setup may appeal for a secondary-display application where display latency isn’t an issue.
The rule with these devices is to make sure you are purchasing one that suits your current needs. As well, if you do choose to upgrade an existing hub or dock you can “push” your existing hub or dock in to service for another workspace that you use less regularly. Or if the hub or dock is small and light enough, it could be something you could stuff in your laptop bag to connect up other peripherals when on the road.
Some of you may use a laptop stand or bracket as part of your desktop workspace. Here, your computer will either clip in to the bracket or rest on this stand, typically to have the laptop’s display at the same height as your main computer monitor.
Here, make sure that the laptop stand or bracket is sturdy and can continue to do its job for a long time. It is also worth making sure that the stand is adjustable so that the top of the computer’s screen is at the same height as the top of the monitor’s screen.
Moving from desktop to laptop?
Some of you may be building out that desktop workspace for your laptop computer as part of moving from desktop to laptop computing.
Here, you can retain most, if not all of your desktop computer’s peripherals and connect them to your new laptop computer, whether directly or via a hub or dock. As well, an independent computer store or electronics store may offer self-powered USB disk-drive enclosures that fit most standard-sized internal-mount hard disks or optical drives used in desktop computers. This will mean that you can move hard drives, SSDs or optical drives out of you desktop computer’s case to these enclosures so you can continue using them, something that can be done with a screwdriver.
Lenovo even had this idea in mind with their BoostStation external graphics module which connects to the host computer via Thunderbolt 3. Here, this unit didn’t just have room for a graphics card but also had the ability for you to install a hard disk or SSD like the one you have removed from your old desktop computer.
Similarly, you will have to remove the hard disks or solid-state storage device that are in your desktop computer from that computer before you send it off for e-waste recycling. This is to preserve your privacy and the confidentiality of your data. Again, if you needed to, that computer store may have a USB disk-drive enclosure or a USB hard-disk docking station so you can get at any of your data on the hard disk or SSD.
This approach is worth taking if you find that your desktop setup’s peripherals have a significant amount of mileage left in them or you use certain peripherals that fit your needs exactly.
Once you build out one or more desktop workspaces for your laptop computer, you are then able to have the best of both worlds – comfortable ergonomic computing at your desk and portable computing with your laptop.
Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts
As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.
This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.
Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content
In-band cue marking on cassette
Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.
This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.
With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.
Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.
Index Marking on CDs
The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.
Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.
Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.
As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.
There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.
But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.
The podcast revolution
File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.
Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.
The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.
The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.
It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.
Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.
Why chapter marking within podcasts?
A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.
This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.
This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.
Is this feasible?
The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.
There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.
What is holding it back?
The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.
Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.
As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.
Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.
Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.
The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.
In some countries like the UK, Australia and Germany, regional broadband infrastructure providers set up shop to provide next-generation broadband to a particular geographic area within a country.
This is used to bring next-generation broadband technology like fibre-to-the-premises to homes and businesses within that geographic area. But let me remind you that fibre-to-the-premises isn’t the only medium they use — some of them use fixed wireless or a fibre-copper setup like HFC cable-modem technology or fibre + Ethernet-cable technology. But they aren’t using the established telephone network at all thus they stay independent of the incumbent infrastructure provider and, in some areas like rural areas, that provider’s decrepit “good enough to talk, not good enough for data” telephone wiring.
In the UK especially, most of these operators will target a particular kind of population centre like a rural village cluster (Gigaclear, B4RN, etc), a large town or suburb (Zzoom), city centres (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, etc) or even just greenfield developments. Some operators set themselves up in multiple population centres in order to get them wired up for the newer technology but all of the operators will work on covering the whole of that population centre, including its outskirts.
This infrastructure may be laid ahead of the incumbent traditional telco or infrastructure operator like Openreach, NBN or Deutsche Telekom or it may be set up to provide a better Internet service than what is being offered by the incumbent operator. But it is established and maintained independently of the incumbent operator.
Internet service offerings
Typically the independent regional broadband infrastructure providers run a retail Internet-service component available to households and small businesses in that area and using that infrastructure. The packages are often pitched to offer more value for money than what is typically offered in that area thanks to the infrastructure that the provider controls.
But some nations place a competitive-market requirement on these operators to offer wholesale Internet service to competing retail ISPs, with this requirement coming in to force when they have significant market penetration.That is usually assessed by the number of actual subscribers who are connected to the provider’s Internet service or the number of premises that are passed by the operator’s street-level infrastructure. In addition, some independent regional infrastructure providers offer wholesale service earlier as a way to draw in more money to increase their footprint.
This kind of wholesale internet service tends to be facilitated by special wholesale Internet-service markets that these operators are part of. Initially this will attract boutique home and small-business Internet providers who focus on particular customer niches. But some larger Internet providers may prefer to take an infrastructure-agnostic approach, offering mainstream retail Internet service across multiple regional service providers.
Support by local and regional government
Local and regional governments are more likely to provide material and other support to these regional next-generation infrastructure operators. This is to raise their municipality’s or region’s profile as an up-to-date community to live or do business within. It is also part of the “bottom-up” approach that these operators take in putting themselves on the map.
In a lot of cases, the regional next-generation infrastructure providers respond to tenders put forward by local and regional governments. This is either to provide network and Internet service for the government’s needs or to “wire up” the government’s are of jurisdiction or a part thereof for next-generation broadband.
There will have to be legislative enablers put forward by national and regional governments to permit the creation and operation of regional next-generation broadband network infrastructure. This could include the creation and management of wholesale-broadband markets to permit retail-Internet competition.
There is also the need to determine how much protection a small regional infrastructure operator needs against the incumbent or other infrastructure operators building over their infrastructure with like offerings. This may be about assuring the small operator sufficient market penetration in their area before others come along and compete, along with providing an incentive to expand in to newer areas.
It will also include issues like land use and urban planning along with creation and maintenance of rights-of-way through private, regulated or otherwise encumbered land for such use including competitors’ access to these rights-of-way.
That also extends to access to physical infrastructure like pits, pipes and poles by multiple broadband service providers, especially where an incumbent operator has control over that infrastructure. It can also extend to use of conduits or dark fibre installed along rail or similar infrastructure expressly for the purpose of creating data-communications paths.
That issue can also extend to how multiple-premises buildings and developments like shopping centres, apartment blocks and the like are “wired up” for this infrastructure. Here, it can be about allowing or guaranteeing right of access to these developments by competing service providers and how in-building infrastructure is provided and managed.
The need for independent regional next-generation broadband infrastructure
But if an Internet-service market is operating in a healthy manner offering value-for-money Internet service like with New Zealand there may not be a perceived need to allow competing regional next-generation infrastructure to exist.
Such infrastructure can be used to accelerate the provision of broadband within rural areas, provide different services like simultanaeous-bandwidth broadband service for residential users or increase the value for money when it comes to Internet service. Here, the existence of this independent infrastructure with retail Internet services offered through it can also be a way to keep the incumbent service operator in check.
The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content
Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.
The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.
These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform
It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.
The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.
These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.
For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.
Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least
As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.
It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.
There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.
Microsoft is intending to have Windows able to run software written for the Android mobile operating system.
There was a previous attempt in the form of Project Astoria to simplify the process of porting Android apps to Windows 10. But recently the “Your Phone” subsystem offered to people who use certain Android phones the ability to run their apps in Windows. This worked around having Windows 10 working as a graphical terminal for your Android phone in order to run the Android software.
But Microsoft is using Windows Subsystem for Linux, currently used to run text-based UNIX/Linux environments on Windows, as a basis to run Android software on your Windows computer. Firstly, Android is a Google-based fork of Linux intended for mobile-platform devices and this may make Microsoft’s job more easier.
Here the Android app will be run within an Android virtual machine on your Windows computer. This is in conjunction with WSL gaining support for X11 (X Window) and Wayland GUI subsystems for UNIX/Linux computing so that graphically-rich software for those platforms, including shells like GNOME can run on Windows 10.
There will be a requirement to make the Android app independent of Google Play Services because Google won’t release this functionality to devices other than native Android or ChromeOS devices. But this could be part of repackaging the software for the Windows platform.
This kind of compatibility will encourage Android software developers to write software that takes advantage of devices with large display surfaces like tablets and Chromebooks as well as smartphones. It will also make this software relevant to people who use Windows-based 2-in-1s like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 or the Lenovo Yoga range.
There will be some app classes that will benefit from being made available through the Microsoft Store to run on Windows computers. Some apps like native clients for video-on-demand services will be about being able to enjoy these online video services on your laptop. The same holds true for sports scoreboard apps and mobile-platform “guilty-pleasure” games. Also there will be the idea of having Instagram, Snapchat and co running on your regular computer which will be valued by those of us who see a social media presence of importance for ourselves or our business efforts. Let’s not forget taxi and rideshare booking apps where there is the desire to use them from a regular computer perhaps to book rides for others.
Another use case is software written to make your Android phone a control surface for the smart home. It is primarily exhibited through “app-cessory” software that is written to convert your smartphone in to a control surface for various devices with the link facilitated using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But it can be software written to manage a smart-home platform like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and there may be the desire to have this run on a regular Windows computer.
Microsoft will need to have extra people to vet software that comes in to the Windows Store in order to keep malware out. This is because Google was overwhelmed with Android-based malware creeping in to their Play app store and they had to increase the number of people taking control over what ended up there. This danger will increase especially if it is feasible to “write once run anywhere” for both Windows and Android.
It is part of having Microsoft Windows 10 as the most flexible open-frame desktop operating system thanks to it supporting a wide range of software types: Progressive Web Apps, Win32 native Windows apps, Universal Windows Platform apps, UNIX/Linux software via Windows Subsystem for Linux and, to come, Android through Project Latte.
Having Windows, desktop Linux or ChromeOS on the desktop and Android on the mobile devices could be about building out a computing ecosystem that is totally about flexible open-frame computing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.
It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.
But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.
This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.
But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.
Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.
They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.
But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.
There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.
Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.
But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.
Intel has just premiered a design for a white-label laptop that implements their Tiger Lake silicon.
This computer, which is a mainstream productivity laptop and known as the NUC M15, is intended to be offered by small-time manufacturers and retailer or distributor private labels. Intel previously offered a white-label laptop design in the form of the XPG Xenix 15 gaming laptop.
This will use what is expected of a Tiger Lake laptop and will be used as a machine for smaller operators to have Intel Evo-certified products in their lineup. This means it will come with 11th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and Thunderbolt 4 as part of the feature set.
The small-time manufacturer or retail / distributor private label can be in a position to compete with larger manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft. But there should be the ability to vary the design to suit particular needs. It is also seen as a way for these kind of manufacturers to have Intel Evo-certified laptop products in their lineups.
A question that can come about is whether this is seen as a fertile ground for a small-time partner manufacturer or private label to use this as the basis for a bespoke design. It is especially where there are small-time manufacturers who focus on equipment for specialist use cases. An example of this could be a manufacturer whose niche is a highly-ruggedised computer setup.
But could these systems also be about “working out” a Tiger-Lake-based reference design for a mass-market laptop product. The machines that I am thinking of are similar to HP Pavilion or Dell Inspiron product ranges for ordinary households, HP Probook or Dell Vostro product ranges for small-business consumers, or HP Elitebooks, Acer Travelmates and Dell Latitudes for enterprise users. These are usually with 15” screens, have average graphics expectations and aren’t necessarily thin and light.
It may be a step to see decent performance and battery life available for laptop users no matter the class of portable computer they are working with, thanks to Intel’s latest iteration in its persistent innovation for this type of computer device.
Most recently-built desktop and laptop regular computers that run Windows, especially business-focused machines offered by big brands, implement a secure element known as the Trusted Platform Module. This is where encryption keys for functions like BitLocker, Windows Hello or Windows-based password vaults are kept. But this is kept as a separate chip on the computer’s motherboard in most cases.
But Microsoft are taking a different approach to providing a secure element on their Windows-based regular-computer platform. Here, this is in the form of keeping the Trusted Platform Module on the same piece of silicon as the computer’s main CPU “brain”.
Microsoft initially implemented a security-chip-within-CPU approach with their XBox platform as a digital-rights-management approach. Other manufacturers have implemented this approach in some form or another for their computing devices such as Samsung implementing in the latest Galaxy S smartphones or Apple implementing it as the T2 security chip within newer Macintosh regular computers. There is even an Internet-of-Things platform known as the Azure Sphere which implements the “security-chip-within-CPU” approach.
This approach works around the security risk of a person gaining physical access to a computer to exfiltrate encryption keys and sensitive data held within the Trusted Platform Module due to it being a separate chip from the main CPU. As well, before Microsoft announced the Pluton design, they subjected it to many security tests including stress-tests so that it doesn’t haunt them with the same kind of weaknesses that affect the Apple T2 security chip which was launched in 2017.
Intel, AMD and Qualcomm who design and make CPUs for Windows-based regular computers have worked with Microsoft to finalise this “security-chip-within-CPU” design. Here, they will offer it in subsequent x86-based and ARM-based CPU designs.
The TPM application-programming-interface “hooks” will stay the same as far as Windows and application-software development is concerned. This means that there is no need to rewrite Windows or any security software to take advantage of this chipset design. The Microsoft Pluton approach will benefit from “over-the-air” software updates which, for Windows users, will come as part of the “Patch Tuesday” update cycle.
More users will stand to benefit from “secure-element” computing including those who custom-build their computer systems or buy “white-label” desktop computer systems from independent computer stores.
As well, Linux users will stand to benefit due to efforts to make this open-source and available to that operating-system platform. In the same context, it could allow increasingly-secure computing to be part of the operating system and could open up standard secure computing approaches for Linux-derived “open-frame” computer platforms like Google’s ChromeOS or Android.
Here, the idea of a secure element integrated within a CPU chip die isn’t just for digital-rights-management anymore. It answers the common business and consumer need for stronger data security, user privacy, business confidentiality and operational robustness. There is also the goal of achieving secure computing from the local processing silicon to the cloud for online computing needs.
Microsoft hasn’t opened up regarding whether the Pluton trusted-computing design will be available to all silicon vendors or whether there are plans to open-source the design. But this could lead to an increasingly-robust secure-element approach for Windows and other computing platforms.
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