Lessons Learned by a Would be Cord Cutter

Ya know… Getting rid of your cable or satellite subscriptions ain’t as easy as you might think. This is what I’ve learned so far…

 

Introduction

I recently got a new job in a different state. While we wait for the housing market to improve a bit before we sell the house, I’ve got long term, temporary housing set up. In an attempt to manage costs, I’ve decided to forgo with a local cable TV subscription and have decided to become a cord cutter. Internet TV or even getting TV on your computer isn’t as easy as you thought it might be; and I’ve learned some interesting lessons over the past few weeks. I’m going to do my best to cover as many of them as I can.

apple-itv

 

You Still Need a TV

I’ve got a 27″ Thunderbolt Display; and as a computer monitor it’s totally awesome. As a TV, however, it leaves something to be desired. It would be great if the right services were in place to be able to use it as a TV.

iTunes can be controlled with an Apple Remote on every Mac. I’ve also found that my Thunderbolt Display works well from across a small room; and an Apple Remote can perform basic VCR functions as well as control volume levels on my MacBook Pro. This however, is only part of the equation.

However, you can’t “change a channel,” and Apple TV functionality isn’t present on a Mac. Channel surfing really doesn’t exist in this situation. Things like Netflix or Hulu Plus are run in a browser and you need a full blown mouse or some kind of motion control device (like Microsoft Connect) to control your Mac from your couch.

If you have a TV and other accessories (see below) you can still cut the cable, but get the best of both worlds. If the Apple iTV was really a Thunderbolt Display with a built in Apple TV, or if there was a real world way to marry the two together, this would eliminate the need for a TV from the cord cutting equation. Unfortunately, I’m finding that a TV is still a required component.

 

Get a Set Top Box

As I mentioned above, if you REALLY want to have the best “cord free” experience, you’re not only going to need a TV, but you’re going to need a set top box. I’m really talking about an Apple TV, Roku Box, Chromecast dongle or other device that helps you find some traditional network (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) content, cable network (HBO, ShowTime, Cinemax, etc.) content, some specialty content (NFL Network, ESPN, etc.) as well as some streaming services like Netflix and/or Hulu Plus.

While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus are available via a browser, as I pointed out above, getting a full blown TV experience is difficult without a set top box. It is possible to find traditional network, cable network or specialty content on the web with a web browser; but that often involves a separate fee. The set top box is often licensed by the content owner to play or stream the content without paying an additional licensing fee. It also makes using your streaming service subscription a lot easier, as it consolidates all of your options – including those available on your PC – into a single interface and place. Again, if I could use my Apple TV with my Thunderbolt display, this would solve a big problem for me.

 

Invest in a Really Good Digital Antenna

Services like Aero are really kinda cool. However, Aero isn’t available in all markets, and there really isn’t anything else like it that would allow streaming of local channels over the internet or other network connection. This is a huge problem if you’re a cord cutter and are trying to obtain digital TV services without any kind of cable or satellite TV package.

The obvious thing to do here is to purchase a really strong, really good digital antenna for your TV. While this will insure that you can get local TV programming, the most important thing you have to remember is that even though this is the Digital Age, you’re going to take yourself back to the Golden Age of Television when you do this. In other words, it’s going to be a challenge.

Local TV stations are required by Federal mandate to broadcast their programming over the air so that you can pick them up with a digital antenna. You don’t HAVE to have a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to get these channels, though in many ways, this is the easiest way to insure that

  1. You get the local programming
  2. You’re able to view it all clearly, without reception issues

I’ve used digital antennas before with other digital TV products and I’ve noticed that, like the SD TV’s from the ’50′s to the ’80′s (i.e.: before cable really took hold), a lot of antenna adjusting may be required based on your geographical and topographical location (where you are and the shape of the geography around you). The best thing you can do is to insure that the antenna you have is the best you can afford. The stronger that receiver is, the better the quality of the picture you will receive. (You’ll also cut down on the amount of tin foil and forks you’ll need to use to insure that the picture comes in clearly.)

 

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Apple to iWork Users – All Features will be Restored

I kinda figured this was the case. It’s good to know that Apple isn’t leaving users (totally) out in the cold.

iwork09090106-3

When Apple reworked iWork late last month and:

  • Made it 64bit
  • Leveled compatibility with iOS, iWork in iCloud and OS X
  • Made it free with the purchase of a new Mac

The update was huge; and it was the shot that restarted and won the Office Suite War  in a single volly; or so I thought. I later found out  that a number of features were missing, apparently removed, much to the chagrin of many iWork 9 users. The outcry had many pundits scratching their heads and users headed towards Office 365 or other alternatives.   Microsoft had fired back without even raising a finger.

Thankfully, Apple has heard the outcry of the masses and has responded.   The missing features were removed in order to insure file compatibility with iWork for iOS.   They will restore 18 of the missing features over the next 6 months.   According to Apple, “In rewriting these applications, some features from iWork ’09 were not available for the initial release.   We plan to reintroduce these features in the next few releases and will continue to add brand new features on an ongoing basis.”

Apple will restore 8 features to Pages, 6 to Numbers and 4 to Keynote, or 18 features in total.   This includes customizable toolbars, renewed Apple Script workflow automation support and thumbnail-based section management.   Unfortunately, once documents are converted in the new version of iWork, they can’t be opened in iWork ’09.

The biggest problem here is that the features will be restored over time and not in a single update after the 2013-10-22 initial release of the cross platform version of iWork.   Its nice that the features will be restored, but some are wondering why this message wasn’t delivered with the updated version of iWork in the first place.

The big question here is whether Apple intends to answer these questions or just gloss over them?   Will they accelerate their release schedule; or weather the storm and get them out there when they can? It wouldn’t mean the end of the world to a lot of people, as those that were dependent on the older features can still access the older software either after the update from an “archived” folder created during the installation routine of the newest version of iWork; or by not updating the software and continuing to use iWork ’09.

If you’re not an iWork user yet, but are interested in the new cross platform version, be aware that there are updates to be made. Existing users should watch for the updates and their missing features to be restored.

What do you think of the situation?   Did Apple stick it to its users, or is the situation something that will work itself out over time?   I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion area, below.

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Microsoft Down to Just 8 CEO Candidates

…and I don’t care if you DID print your resume on hot pink, triple bond paper…

2013-10-24_02-55-11-1_large_verge_medium_landscape

I’ve been calling for it for years, because despite the fact that Ballmer is a really nice guy, he just doesn’t get mobile computing; but Microsoft has been hard at work. Despite the fact that the talk has died down, Microsoft is still actively searching for a new CEO. In fact, they’re down to about eight candidates – 5 external and 3 internal.

Its kinda interesting, as many people – me included – thought this was a done deal a couple different times. However, MS did the right thing and took the spotlight off the activity and quietly whittled the list down to a few candidates.  They include the following people:

External Candidates Include:

  • Ford CEO Alan Mulally
    Microsoft needs a success story candidate, and that’s Mulally. Ford had been in need of an image and financial make over, and Mulally delivered. Ford’s stock has done well in the recent past and the work they’ve done related to automotive connectivity with Sync and major smartphone carriers shows that Mulally understands mobility; and that’s something that Microsoft needs.  Mulally is also one of Ballmer’s go-to advisors as I understand it, so he is at least familiar with what is going on with Microsoft, its challenges and problems. As much as I think other candidates might be a better fit, Mulally may actually be what Microsoft needs.
  • Nokia CEO Stephen Elop
    Elop left Microsoft to join Nokia.  Just a short while later, Microsoft acquired the smartphone business from Nokia, bringing Elop back to Redmond. Elop understands mobility and mobile computing; and Nokia’s been the flagship Windows Phone maker for a while now. On paper, Elop is the candidate that makes the most sense. However, other external candidates have firsthand experience in pulling a troubled company out of murky water before the swirl gets impossible to handle. I want to want Elop for this role, but the more that I think about it, Mulally makes the most sense.
  • Three other, unnamed external candidates
    Reuters, who is the source here, did not have any additional information on external candidates.  Your guess is as good as mine here.

Internal Candidates Include:

  • Former Skype CEO Tony Bates
    Skye is a mobile communications company and Bates did a great job in building Skype into a popular must have internet property that Microsoft swallowed up and now has as the backbone of its Communications platform. Anyone that can do that, certainly has enough vision to turn Microsoft around.
  • Cloud and Enterprise chief Satya Nadella
    Nadella brought us Azure and helped reinvent SkyDrive. His star has been on the rise at Microsoft for quite some time, and while there may not be as much known about him as Tony Bates, Stephen Elop or Alan Mulally, I think Satya Nadella is the leading internal candidate at Microsoft for the vacating CEO chair. He’s continually brought value to the company, his focus with cloud and enterprise at MS will be a key foundation point in any new mobility or mobile strategy, and there isn’t a lot known about him, meaning that the market and the industry won’t be distracted by any back story developments or questions that would develop now that he’s left (Ford or Nokia) one company or is back in the CEO chair.
  • One other, unnamed internal candidate
    Again, Reuters didn’t have any information on who the last internal candidate might be, and didn’t speculate at all. I, however, think it may be Julie Larson-Green.  She’s the new EVP of Microsoft’s Devices and Studio group and has been with the organization since 1993. She has history; and has drive and vision.  As the only (real) female candidate that I know or have heard of, I think she has a decent chance in the race.  Putting a woman in charge would be a popular and trending play for Microsoft, who desperately needs as much positive spin on their next public move as they can get.

Many people have speculated that Bill Gates would come back as CEO and pull Microsoft out of the gutter. I don’t see this happening and there’s no credible source that I can find that would suggest that Gates is making another run for the corner office on Microsoft’s executive floor.

Who do you think should sit in the captain’s chair at Microsoft? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the discussion, below.

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Cloud Services Raining Problems – Google Drive & OS X Mavericks

mavericksWhat do Mavericks, Google Drive and Apple Support all have in common? Finder crashes…

Mavericks was made available to the public for free on 2013-10-22. It’s been one of the most successful OS X rollouts ever for Apple, in large part because of its many new features and also because its performance has been top notch. However, that doesn’t mean that all is right with the world.

I don’t really like the Finder Tabs implementation that Apple worked into Mavericks Finder. The “fold under” paradigm to the feature makes it very difficult to see what tabs are available in any particular Finder window. Safari uses the same paradigm and has the same problem, in my opinion.

In order to resolve this issue for me, I don’t use Finder Tabs and instead use Total Finder, an $18 Finder add-on that I was turned on to more than 18 months ago. Version 1.5.2 works best with Mavericks; but you have to watch. If something goes wrong with Finder, it’s probably the first place you should look and the first extension you should kill. If for some reason the extension does go south, it doesn’t auto restart, which is good and bad. Is good because you won’t get caught in some ugly, Finder crashing loop. If Total Finder force quits, Finder should come back, and you should be able to use your Mac “normally.” It’s bad, because if you want the features back after the force quit, you have to manually restart the extension.

I upgraded to Mavericks before the 2013-10-22 availability due to my Developer Program membership. I had the Gold Master before the public did, and it’s been a solid performer for well over a month. I’ve not had any issues with it, Total Finder, or any other application or extension I have installed on my Early 2011 MBP. So, when I started having Finder crashes yesterday morning and ALL yesterday evening, I kinda got worried.

I hadn’t installed any new Mac software. There were no changes to the system that I was aware of, so either something got corrupted, I had a virus or worm intrusion, or I had other problems. I have ClamX AV installed on my Mac, and I have not been getting any warnings from it. I’ve got its System Sentry running and scanning the root and subfolders on EVERY drive permanently attached to it, so I was relatively certain I didn’t have any weird bug.

After Mavericks reinstalled itself (a system update/rebuild of 10.9.0 was released after the GM was made available to Developer Program members and it automatically came down and its install was started), I hadn’t updated any other software. However, all day yesterday, I had Finder crash after Finder crash. Finder would auto restart, but it got to be so bad, that I couldn’t get any work done or even watch any video full screen. The looping Finder crashes took over my machine. I immediately started looking at Total Finder as the culprit. In the past, if my Mac developed Finder issues, it was likely behind them. However, Finder kept crashing over and over, and Total Finder had force closed after the first one. It wasn’t causing the issue.

finder_crash

I took a run over to Apple Support Forums after that. I found a couple of threads about Finder crashes and Mavericks, and a couple of possible solutions. The first one involved removing the com.Apple.Finder.plist file (my system actually had 3, which made me think I some Finder problems anyway…) from my ~Library\Preferences folder. Moderate success had been reported with that.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. Finder continued to crash about once every 2-3 minutes.

The other solution I found was related to people who had Google Drive installed on their Mavericks system. To stop Finder crashes, you had to uncheck the option to display file sync status. That worked.

Shortly after I came to work, I got a notice from MacUpdate Desktop that a new version of Google Drive had been released. Unfortunately, release notes weren’t available at the time of release, and I can’t find anything online that tells me what changed. However, I plan to update Drive when I get home and will likely leave sync status icons disabled, even if they’re fixed. This isn’t the first time that Google Drive’s sync status icons have caused serious performance or stability issues on either Mac or Windows systems. The feature is a convenience, but not something I have to have turned on. As long as the content syncs and my menu bar icon says all is well, I’m happy.

The biggest problem here is that with the big push to get everything in the cloud, Google can’t afford to have Drive causing issues like this. They need to get a handle on it and kill the problem or else the service will be seen as unreliable, even with the work around.

 

Again, this is something that I’ll be monitoring, and if I have an update, I’ll make sure it gets on Soft32.com ASAP.

 

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Fairfax Deal Falls Through – Blackberry on the Skids?

Sometimes I really hate it when I’m right…

The clock has been ticking for Blackberry for quite some time, and today, the alarm went off. You know, I really feel bad. I really do. I hate it when I’m right, but some things really just can’t be helped.

I’ve been down on RIM/Blackberry for quite some time. I’ve been calling for them to see the writing on the wall since late 2011. Its seems now, they actually do know “for whom the bell tolls.” This time, it tolls for Thorsten Heins as Blackberry ousts not only him, but many of its senior directors as well in a last ditch effort to salvage some value out of the organization before it’s too late.

The buy-out by Fairfax Financial isn’t going to take place, and that’s really too bad. It was, in my opinion, Blackberry’s last, real chance to maintain any of its identity. Instead of the buyout, which would have been a nearly $5.0B deal, Fairfax is going to try to raise about $1.0B by selling convertible notes in a bid to stabilize the organizations shrinking operating capital. Recently, the company reported a quarterly loss of about $1.0B and burned through an additional $500M in cash.

Sybase’s former chairman and chief executive of its enterprise technology firm, John Chen, will take over as CEO and as chairman of its board. Fairfax’s CEO, Prem Watsa will act as lead director and the chair of Blackberry’s compensation committee. There are specific, unspecified conditions that must also be met for the deal to close, which also includes approval from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Trading of Blackberry shares was briefly halted, prior to the Nasdaq actually opening, as they lost nearly 21% in premarket trading. As of 2 PM EST, BBRY shares were still down 1.28 to 6.49.

wake up blackberry

After the operating capital is secured, I’m not certain what Blackberry’s Plan B moves are. However, if they’re smart, those moves should include finding some kind of buyer for their IP before it becomes completely irrelevant. Blackberry’s security technology is great for mobile email, but many of its current customers are moving to other solutions as they weren’t able to make their latest OS gain any traction with the consumer market and have only had mild success in the enterprise market. Divesting the organization’s assets seems the only real alternative for them to get any return on their investor’s money… before the world completely moves on.

 

I’ll be following this in the coming days and weeks to see if and what John Chen decides to do with the organization. Please watch Soft32.com for updates.

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From the Derp Department – Apple Screwed up iWork

OK… Maybe I spoke too soon. Someone pass me a fork for the crow pie I’m about to eat.

A few days ago I mentioned that Apple restarted and won the Office Suite War with its release of a new version of iWork and priced it for free, at least on new Macs.

I may have spoken too soon.

In an interesting development, a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth has been heard in the Apple Orchard after existing users upgraded to the latest version of iWork. Apparently, in order to insure cross platform compatibility, and have really one code base across iOS, Mavericks and the Web, Apple stripped a great many features out of the suite.

For example, Pages as had endnotes, outline view, selection of non-contiguous text, facing pages, saving files in RTF format, removed from the app. It also now contains significant limitations in automating workflow using AppleScript, and has lost more than 100 ready-to-use templates.

While Apple states this makes the software easier to maintain across platforms, most users aren’t going to care. It’s nice to be able to say you can use whatever device you have in front of you to do work, but reality is – most users do work on a specific device every time there’s work to do.

i dont work

For example – I listen to music and make calls on my iPhone. I watch movies and read books on my iPad. I write reports, columns and reviews on my Mac. While the new version of iWork will let me do that on both my iPhone and iPad, it’s not something that I’d do. Users just want the features back. Software upgrades are supposed to fix or enhance existing features and introduce new ones. They aren’t supposed to dumb software down so it’s easier for the publisher to maintain. That’s not a user’s concern and it will never be…

Unfortunately, Apple has a lot of fallout to address based on their 1000+ comments and over 50,000 page views of two threads in their Support Forums complaining about the mess that iWork has turned into.

So… what’s happening on the other end of the battle field? Quite simply, Microsoft is laughing all the way to the bank. Users who want to turn their Mac into a productivity tool can buy Office and get the features they want and need. They can also get an Office 365 subscription, work on their iPad via the online version.

So yeah… Apple may have restarted the war, but they didn’t end it like I thought they did because I didn’t think they’d be stupid enough to dumb the desktop version down so that both it and the iOS version could be compiled from a single code base. Microsoft fired back, and they didn’t have to make a single move. All they did was wait for users to discover how lacking iWork really is and then start laughing as they passed out trial versions of Office.

Now… if Microsoft wants to put this to bed for good… it will make the basic version of Office or Office 365 – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – available to “switchers” for free, say for a year. 

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Who Designs this Stuff – Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Power Supply & Pen Connector

From the WTH department comes the easiest way in the world to lose a $30 Stylus

I am probably one of the most anal retentive people I know. I keep all of my computing equipment in pristine, mint condition as I never know when I’m going to put it up on eBay or Craig’s List and sell it because something else got introduced. Recycling computer equipment is something that is getting a LOT of press right now. Special nods to the iDevice for its rapid revision cycle and Apple’s high product quality levels.

One of the things that makes this difficult, however is poor design. Case in point – Microsoft Surface RT/2 and Pro/2 devices use a magnetic charger just like most of Apple’s laptops; but there’s a subtle difference – the Surface devices use the same port to dock its stylus when the charger isn’t connected.

surface pen connector

The problem is that the magnet that holds the stylus isn’t strong enough to hold it in place. It’s easily knocked off and you might not notice that it’s fallen off and no longer there for quite a while.

Losing the stylus is a huge problem. The magnet that holds the pen in place isn’t strong enough. The port that holds it also sits against the angled side of the device at a 45 degree angle. The wall isn’t flat. The stylus is difficult to dock and often doesn’t sit right in the magnetic well. The weak bond makes the stylus fall off very easily. If you don’t hear it fall, you won’t notice it’s gone until long after you’ve lost it. Then it costs you $30USD to replace.

As I mentioned earlier, the stylus docks in the same spot as the device’s charger is placed. As the side of the device is at a 45 degree angle, and the charging port is long, stiff and exact fitting, it’s difficult to place into the port due to the size, shape and angle of the side of the device. The charger often doesn’t make full contact with the charging plate, and then… doesn’t charge the device.

It’s the 45 degree angle that prevents the charger from sitting correctly. The charger cord also doesn’t like being twisted enough to face the charging plate.

SurfacePower

What does this all mean – besides the fact that the guy that designed these features should be found and shot? It means that you’re likely going to need to buy a few extra styli or hope someone designs an affordable or reasonably priced, 3rd party keyboard that includes a built in stylus that’s either tethered to it, sits in a silo or both. Unfortunately, Surface 2/Pro uses the same stylus and AC adapter, so no one addressed this design flaw in the new hardware release.

If you’re considering a Surface 2/Pro, you’ll need to be aware of this issue. There has to be a better way of keeping track of these styli without buying a pencil cup full of them for if and when you lose them. There should also be a better way of charging and powering the device. There are other design issues with the AC adapter (charging indicator location) that I also really haven’t touched on that should be resolved. Again… who designed this and/or approved the designs?

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The Biggest News at the Apple Event – Microsoft and Google cut to the Core

Guess what kids – iWork (Pages, Numbers, and KeyNote) is FREE and available in the App Store right now.

It was over a LONG time ago. Microsoft beat out both WordPerfect and Lotus SmartSuite back in 1990-blah-blah-blah to win the Office Suite wars. It was hard fought. It was a bitter victory, especially for me, as I used to be a WordPerfect 5.x for DOS and 6.x for Windows instructor. I made money teaching people how to use WP5.x 6.x for DOS and Windows. That is, until Microsoft’s Office 95 hit and changed the world forever.

What was the death blow? That’s simple – integration with other apps. You could write a report in Word and include “live” spreadsheet data or easily import graphics and the text would all just flow around everything… it was so beautiful, it made me cry. It was a paper-jockey’s dream; and the closest competitor, WordPerfect, had a release of WordPerfect for Windows that was SO bad, the CEO of the organization recalled the app (which was already over a year late to market) and made the development team start from scratch.

and Microsoft has dominated the Office Suite world ever since. Hands down. The end. Game over…

Today… at the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Apple not only restarted the war, but it ended it in a single move. They win. Hands down. The end. Game (now really) over.

iwork vs office

How did they do it? That’s simple.

The latest update of iWork, their office suite which contains a word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers), and presentation creator (Keynote) is available today, and it’s free.

iWork is cloud enabled. All of the documents that you create and edit can be saved to iCloud, Apple’s cloud sync service. It can be used on the desktop or in a browser. It can be used by Mac or PC users. Documents can be started on one platform and edited in another, at the same time.

Did I mention that it’s cross platform and it’s free?

Both Microsoft and Google charge subscription fees for their office suites. Microsoft’s Office 365 has a number of different subscription tiers and the monthly fees aren’t bad. However, you’re still paying a lot for a set of apps that Apple is now giving away for free.

Oh… and by the way, Apple is also giving away OS X 10.9 Mavericks – the latest full version of their desktop operating system – for free. This really makes life difficult for Microsoft whose main revenue streams have been not only Office but Windows as well.

Apple’s new iPad announcements don’t mean much in comparison. Don’t get me wrong the iPad Air looks compelling and the new iPad mini has a retina display. Both hardware updates may be enough to get those still outside the tablet world or waiting for a reason to upgrade from an iPad 1 or an iPad 2 a compelling reason TO upgrade; but the big story from San Francisco today – free software from Apple. If that’s not a reason to give a longer, harder more serious look to computing platforms and ecosystem, then I’m not certain what is.

The war is over, my friends. And whether you think so or not, Apple really cut both Microsoft and Google to the core. They’re now going to have to rethink a lot of their mobile strategy and price points in order to combat this latest development after Apple’s announcement today.

iwork

I’d love to hear what you have to say about all of this. Why not join us in the discussion, below and tell us what you think?

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