The State of Consumer Computing

I have NO idea where the industry is going with this…

consumer_computingOk, kids. Sit back. I’ve been cooking up a rant on the direction that consumer/ prosumer computing has been going for a while; and given that the Holidays are here, it’s time to let this one loose. There’s some background that I feel is necessary (nearly) every time I shoot my mouth off, so bear with me a minute…

I’ve been writing in the tech sector for almost 20 years. I’m a tech pioneer, as I got started in mobile, and consumer computing back in 1990-blah-blah-blah when computing and mobility was in its infancy. During this time, I’ve always seen a clear steady progression… a firm march towards what I would call a confirmed and clear vision of mobility and portability that enabled prosumer and hobbyist level consumers to be productive. Honestly, I don’t see much of that any longer. To be blunt – I have no idea where the heck industry is headed at this point, and it really concerns me.

Windows
I used to be a huge Windows proponent. I cut my teeth at WUGNET – The Windows User’s Group NETwork where I was their Senior Content Editor for approximately 10 years. I wrote – literally – thousands of Windows based tips for Windows, IE, Office 95 – 2007, and Hardware. I had a column in the Computing Pro Forum at AOL/ CompuServe, which WUGNET managed, called, “The Weekly Byte,” covering anything and everything computing and/ or Windows based, for just over seven years. I’ve also been on every technical beta of Windows since Windows 95. Windows is a platform that I know very, VERY well.

Unfortunately, I have little to NO idea where Microsoft is headed at this point, and quite honestly – though it may seem a bit harsh – I’m not certain they do either. Again, to be blunt, Windows 10 is a train wreck; but I’ll get to that in short order.

I’ve made it very clear that I’m not happy with the way things are going with Windows. To say I’m disenchanted with the state of Windows could be considered an understatement. Couple that with the prices for the new and still available, but previous, version of Surface Book; and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

It’s no secret to anyone that Windows PC’s are about half the price (or less) of an Apple computer. Which really makes Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book prices really confusing. Both Signature PC’s – meaning that they are Windows PC’s without any junkware, crapware or adware installed by the PC manufacturer – are priced as premium devices. Microsoft Surface Book ranges in price from $1499 to $2999 before tax. Surface Pro 4 is a bit more “affordable,” but also gets rather pricey. Prices for it range from $899 to $2699 before tax.

I have no idea why Surface PC’s are so expensive. Microsoft’s hardware efforts don’t have the clout to command such premium prices. In fact the history of both the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book have been riddled with HUGE driver issues. Microsoft has had huge issues related to both power and battery drivers as well as graphics driver issues that have prevented the convertible PC’s from sleeping and hibernating correctly as well as contributing to “hot bag” syndrome, where the PC overheats in a backpack or notebook carrying case because the device never shuts off correctly, burning out the device at worse or severely draining and damaging the battery at best.

Don’t get me started about the whole disappearing ink thing. Over a year later, its still not resolved. That bug effects ALL Surface Pro products, including older Surface Pro devices AND Surface Book.

Microsoft has over the past couple of years since the start of the Windows Insider Program at the beginning of the Windows 10 beta period, said that it would be forcing ALL Windows users to Windows 10 once the operating system was officially released; and they’ve stuck to that, too. Microsoft has been downloading Windows 10 to users PCs whether they want it to be upgraded or not, without their permission. At that point, Windows doesn’t ask you if you want to upgrade, but TELLS you that it’s going to update your machine. In fact, many Windows 7-8.x users went to bed only to wake up to a PC that was upgraded to Windows 10 without their permission. These strong arm tactics had many Windows users breathing fire in Redmond’s general direction. Microsoft seems to have crossed a line with this one, and they aren’t sorry about it either.

And I REALLY have to go into Microsoft’s mobile strategy or the real lack thereof?

It’s clear that Microsoft DOESN’T care about whether or not I want to upgrade or not. They’re taking everyone there, kicking and screaming if they have to; and they don’t seem to care about the fallout, either.

I don’t get it. Microsoft seems to have done a “Steve Jobs” and decided what was best for everyone whether they want it or not. This new attitude combined with their Surface based driver issues has me wondering who’s steering the boat in Redmond; or if anyone is really steering at all.

Microsoft has seemingly gone from a compassionate business partner strong arming business software dictator. Where the heck did they get the system level permissions to upgrade my computer without my consent? My good friend, Woody Leonard of Microsoft Office fame has a decent article, published earlier this year that provides some good information on this.

Needless to say, this and a Microsoft’s confusing hardware strategy has a number of people, me included, wondering just where Microsoft is going with all of this. They’ve burned a lot of bridges with a lot of folks. Some have sworn off Windows and have considered other OS options like machos or Linux.

Speaking of which…

Apple
I got into Macs in 2006 after Apple made the switch to Intel processors. In fact, I bought my first Mac with the intent of it being a Windows machine. An Intel based Mac runs Windows VERY well. The drivers that Apple provides via Boot Camp are really solid. In my opinion, Macs provide one of the best native Windows computing experiences around.

In fact, it’s for THAT reason alone that most of the tech sector – meaning those paid professions (like me) that cover technology developments via mainstream tech print or online media, use Macs. They’re really the ONLY computer on the market that can natively (and legally) run BOTH major, consumer operating systems out of the box. In fact, they can also run just about any Linux distro you throw at it as well. Since Macs can really be the anything and everything computer, spending the extra money to purchase one of them as a notebook makes perfect sense and is completely cost justifiable. With a Mac, I can cover any and every platform. I can review nearly every OS available. I can review just about any and every accessory for any operating system, provided I have the right port and/ or cable or dongle available or within reach.

Macs have also historically been supported by firmware and OS compatibility by Apple for a minimum of five to seven years, making these historically, premium priced, prosumer targeted notebooks and desktops easy to use, easy to justify and easy to maintain… that is, until recently.

With the release of the iPad Pro and the release of the Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar I truly believe there are very few people outside of Cupertino that know where Apple is going with its computing strategy.

Many new Late 2016 MacBook Pro users have said that the form factor of the device is approaching that of the iPad Pro, with a keyboard. These same people have stated that the iPad Pro could be a MacBook Pro replacement… with the introduction of the proper software. Both devices seem to be hurtling towards each other’s users and towards each other’s form factors.

There are a number of reviews on the Late 2016 MacBook Pro that indicate that the device is more mainstream consumer oriented than a “professional” device. They have further said that the only thing that’s “pro” about the new MacBook Pro is its price. Its anywhere between $500 to $1500 more expensive than its immediate predecessor; and the only thing that it REALLY offers is a thinner form factor and a Touch Bar that many users are still on the fence about.

What remains adamantly unclear is where Apple is headed with their computing products. Apple recently got out of the wireless router business. Apple hasn’t updated the Mac mini since October of 2014; and hasn’t’ updated the iMac since October of 2015. While they’ve updated the iPhone and iPad regularly during the same timeframe, what IS clear is that their portable computing efforts seem to be edging closer and closer to their tablet based products and their tablet efforts seem to be edging closer and close to their portable computing based products.

But to WHAT end?

Back in the day, everyone clearly wanted not only better, faster, stronger, but lighter and more portable. With Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lines of notebook computers, we achieved that some time ago. All that Apple seems to be doing is making the MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro more and more alike; and many are asking, “why?”

Unfortunately, no one from Cupertino is providing any kind of explanation; and I find myself trying to figure out a couple of things:
1. How in the world I’m going to afford a new MacBook Pro in 2-3 more years.
2. Is a Mac even the right platform to choose?

Both of these questions are equally important. I don’t want an iOS device to be my main computing device. The platform doesn’t offer enough software – or even the right software – for what I use a computer for. I don’t want all of my files pushed to the cloud, which is where iDevices really want all of your data to live – and to be very honest, iDevices don’t offer all of the peripherals and connectivity options I’m looking for. Connecting my Nikon D7100 to my iPad isn’t possible, for example; and likely won’t be. Yes, Apple has a dongle to connect an SD card to an iPad, but I really don’t want to have to remove it from the camera every time I want to transfer pictures from it to my “computer” for retouching and processing.

While I really don’t need more than 16GB of RAM on a computer at this point, my previous Mac purchase strategy was to buy the high end 15″ MacBook Pro with as big of an SSD as I could afford. In the past, that’s cost me approximately $3000; but it got me a Mac that has historically lasted more than 5 years, with the exception of my Early 2011 MacBook Pro, that is. My 2006 MacBook Pro lasted me until 2011.

Most folks who did what I did – bought big to ward off obsolescence – won’t necessarily be able to do that this time around. I bought the high end, Late 2013 MBP with the high end processor and 512GB SSD, and 16GB of RAM. Which at the time, was as big and as bad as you could get.

If I were to spend the same amount of money with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro, the only thing I really buy myself is a technology refresh, as I don’t see any value in the Touch Bar given my workflow. If I add the Radeon 460 graphics card – a $100 upgrade that doubles your graphics adapter RAM, a decent upgrade for the price – I’ve priced myself $600 above what I paid for my Late 2013 MacBook Pro (before tax), and as I said, all I’ve really gotten is a technology refresh. I’d hardly call that a compelling reason to buy a new computer, especially since, at this time, there’s nothing wrong with my Late 2013 MacBook Pro.

Upgrading storage from 512GB to 1TB is an additional $400, which seems reasonable, given storage gain; but that brings the price up to $3499, or an additional $1000 above what my Late 2013 MacBook Pro cost, and again, before tax. After tax, the cost is $3718, or $933 more than I paid previously. That’s a lot of money for additional storage and a small graphics adapter bump.

The cost increase here is a huge surprise to many, given that Apple has a history of keeping the new price for new equipment the same as the cost of last year’s model. Here, it seems that there’s a $500 bump for the new models even before you get to customizing the base model’s specs.

AND it’s a lot of money when I have no idea where Apple is headed with their consumer/ prosumer computing roadmap. Are they truly ignoring the professional market? Are they going to push all consumers towards iOS? I have no idea.

Conclusion
Dude… your guess is as good as mine.

I have no idea where the hell Microsoft is going with Windows 10, its somewhat hostile upgrade program (now, seemingly toned down a bit…) or the fact that Microsoft can’t even get the drivers for their OWN signature PC’s coded and debugged correctly.

Heck, have you run Windows through Boot Camp on a Mac? Apple did a dynamite job of providing Windows drivers for all of THEIR hardware. If Apple can do this well, why can’t the maker of the operating system provide drivers for THEIR branded machines? This really seems kinda stupid… Microsoft can’t get this right, but their major competitor – who really doesn’t want to continue to provide Boot Camp, by the way – can. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, that’s for sure.

While it seems like the best thing to do at this point is to just jump to over to a Mac, the cost of any of their current “Pro” level notebooks, unfortunately make it exceptionally cost prohibitive. Buying into the Apple ecosystem as a new user is just too damned expensive at this point. Staying here means I either have to settle for a notebook I don’t want, or my kids won’t be able to go to college…EVER.

Even if it weren’t cost prohibitive, I have no confidence that Apple will be able to support me with the type of hardware that I want and need for my computing needs. Their current computing offerings seem to be hurtling towards each other, destined to end up in some sort of crammed, hashed together mess that combines both iOS and macOS elements.

Hey, Tim..! Keep your chocolate OUT of my peanut butter! I don’t want a notebook that’s more iDevice than notebook. I want a portable, desktop replacement that runs a desktop class operating system. And I don’t want to have to pay $4000 for it, either.

So… I have no idea where both Microsoft – whose software runs in nearly every office of every business on the ENTIRE PLANET – or Apple are headed. One seems to be unable to write drivers even for their own equipment, and the other seems to hell bent on turning their conventional PC’s into tablets.

Both seem hell bent on pissing off all of their users though.

Am I the only one who thinks this? Chime in folks. I’d really appreciate you giving me your thoughts on this.

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Chromebooks – What are they and Why do I Care?

What’s a Chromebook with enhanced offline capabilities..?

A notebook with a stripped-down desktop OS (or, “three Chromebooks walk into a bar…”)

 

Introduction

See… I blame the whole netbook era for this.

A few years ago, just before tablets hit the market and the iPad took the computing world by storm, netbooks were all the rage. They were really a full blown notebook computer with either a “starter” version of Windows or Linux or a hacked version of the full OS; but had budget processing power and RAM. In many ways, they were a hackers dream, as with the right tools, talent or instructions, getting unusual Linux or Unix builds or even OS X on one was fairly easy, requiring only the right OS build and a USB flash drive or CD drive. Back in the day, I had a number of articles published on Gear Diary on how to create a Hackintosh with an MSI Wind.

Netbooks were replaced by tablets; and then the whole rooting your Android device-thing started. In many ways, rooting your Android device has also seen its day come and go, as more people are interested in a pure Android experience. Jail breaking or rooting your device has become very passé and honestly, I’m glad to see it go, too. I used to be very much into putting custom ROM’s on my phone(s), and that goes all the way back to the PocketPC and Windows Mobile days. While it was fun (at times), it’s a great deal of work and the results you get aren’t always worth the effort, especially when you can now cycle devices in and out every 12 or so months.

What does this have to do with Chromebooks? That’s a great question… The way things have been going, I see the implementation of Chromebooks in a similar light – a relic of the pre-tablet age where an open-source undercurrent was trying to redirect the interests of the industry and mainstream computing. Cloud computing has its place, but I don’t see it as the savior that Google and others would want YOU to think it is.

Chromebooks are completely dependent upon a few key items in order to function correctly. Over the next few days, we’ll discuss them all and see if we can figure it all out.

Chromebooks

 

Google Services and Little Else

Let’s get this out there right now – unless you’re already in bed with Google, you’d better plan to be if you purchase a Chromebook. The device may not work properly with other cloud-based storage or office suite services, and then you’d be stuck. Buying a Chromebook means buying into Google. Period.

 

A Chromebook is (little more than) a Dumb Terminal

The current computing model is completely based on the Intel x86/x64 architecture and the client/server model of computing. Over the past 20 or so years, you’ve seen Moore’s Law prove itself and then be recast as the number of transistors that we can currently put on a silicon wafer sort of went from 2300 back in the day to more than 2.3M. The point I’m making is that the current computing paradigm has all of the processing power for your computer actually ON your computer.

It’s got a beefy processor with (increasingly sophisticated) power management capabilities. It has a boat load of RAM and as much spinning or flash storage as you can cram into it without blowing the price out of proportion. It (usually now-a-days) has an HD display as both HD capable desktop monitors and notebook screens are coming down in price.

Software ecosystems, even for traditional desktop/laptop computing, provide easy access to all of the tools you need to get your computing tasks done. Everything you need is on the computing device…except on a Chromebook.

Chromes doesn’t have a lot of local processing power built into it. It’s really a desktop version of the Chrome Browser for PC/Mac/Linux shoved inside a plastic and metal case. Most of the apps and computing that you do on it must be run within that browser wrapper. Things like Google Docs, Gmail, Google Photos, work well, and are really all you get. If it runs inside a browser window on your PC and if most of the heavy lifting the app needs are done by the web site/service, then you’re likely going to have a good chance of it running well on a Chromebook… especially if it’s a Google service. The local device can do some crunching and processing, but the device and service are designed to push most of the processing needs on the web server and service. “Regular” applications won’t run, however; so don’t look for that kind of experience from a Chromebook.

While this hardware and software configuration insures that the device itself can be relatively inexpensive (many Chromebooks are priced between $199 and $299), it doesn’t explain devices like the Chromebook Pixel, which sells for $1299. Most Chromebooks have budget processors – Intel Celerons, Samsung Exynos, etc. They’re not very powerful and really only provide basic computing services. The Pixel, however, is configured like a standard laptop, which doesn’t make much sense. It also has a touch screen, which either says they’re going to start doing some touch-centric related stuff with it and will also produce a tablet, or it could mean nothing at all. With Google… you never really know.

Chromebooks, though, are really designed to turn the lights on and just get you access to the internet. They don’t do any local bit crunching. What processing they do, is limited to local storage, file retrieval and internet service navigation and running of the “operating system.” As such, they’re really nothing more than a dumb terminal on wheels.

 

Next Page

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Streaming vs. Download – What Happens when the Cloud Evaporates?

It’s all well and good until the darn cloud is gone…so which is better, streaming or downloading?

The cloud is a wonderful thing, and it can mean and be many different things to many different people.  However, no matter what it is, no matter what it does, the cloud has one big problem.  Users must rely on the internet to get access to it and its resources.

This means different things to different people, depending on your location.  In Europe, with the requirement for ubiquitous 3G coverage throughout the European Union, and with high speed internet coming from cable and satellite providers, people can get access to the cloud and its technology from just about anywhere.  In the US, it’s a little different.

There are still many states that are without complete 3G coverage and, in some cases, without broadband internet.  The problem with all of this is that many new and soon to launch services, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and iCloud rely on internet access to provide the service.  Slower speed services like dial-up, DSL/ADSL and EDGE don’t handle the download requirements well, and performance of these services over these slower access services, is poor. So, there’s a problem with these streaming services when service is inconsistent.

When service simply stops – i.e. when your network connection is totally interrupted via a power outage or a service outage, when the cloud evaporates – there’s a huge problem.  There is no service.  Without a local copy of whatever resources you’re trying to access, you’re out of luck.

Services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and Amazon Prime – those that rely on streaming for service delivery (with or without any kind of local cached data) – aren’t functional when network service is interrupted.  Services like iCloud, which run through iTunes and may have a complete, local copy of the content you are trying to enjoy, may be better, provided they switch to the local copy if communication with the host service is interrupted.  At the very least, you could restart the media and fast forward the audio or video on the local copy to the point you were at on the streamed copy provided you can put your hands on it.

The problem is consistent, high speed network access and the fact that it isn’t available everywhere, all the time.  The problem is also storage space on your PC, laptop, smartphone or tablet.  SD & HD video can often vary in size from about 1GB to 4GB.  When many smartphones and tablets often have 8GB to 16GB of storage to start, it makes it hard to store a complete movie or TV show on your device. If you do, you run the risk of running out of needed space for mail, pictures or other items.

The bottom line is this – until internet access reaches utility status (like water or electricity), users are going to have to choose between using your internet access and streaming content to where ever you are, or carrying it with you. If you stream and you bump into a connectivity problem, you won’t get your content. If you store locally and need space later, you may not be able to add content (like pictures) on the fly.  You’re going to have to be willing to choose one or the other and be aware of its limitations.

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Microsoft Pushes Private Cloud Computing Forward With System Center 2012

Cloud computing

Cloud computing

Today at the Microsoft Management Summit, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson demonstrated how private clouds built with Microsoft technologies can help IT organizations meet their companies’ demands for more agile services. Anderson introduced the new System Center 2012, which will enable IT managers to deliver private cloud services that empower business teams, provide greater insights into application performance, and allow IT to carry forward current investments as they adopt public cloud computing.

System Center 2012: Managing More Than Virtual Machines

System Center 2012, slated for release later this year, enables IT managers to build private clouds with the infrastructure they know and own today — including other vendors’ platforms and virtualization technologies. In his keynote, Anderson demonstrated the Virtual Machine Manager capability in System Center 2012, available today as a beta release at http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/en/us/try-it.aspx. Using this core component of Microsoft private cloud solutions, IT managers can efficiently standardize infrastructure and application services and delegate them to business partners for fast deployment of applications.

Anderson also showed code name “Concero,” the new System Center 2012 capability that empowers department-level application managers to deploy and manage their applications on private and public cloud infrastructure while helping IT managers deliver greater flexibility and agility to their business teams.

System Center 2012 solutions will enhance the current Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud programs and offerings for private cloud computing, including the ability to best manage virtualized workloads. Anderson highlighted new findings from the Enterprise Strategy Group on the enterprise readiness and performance of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V for best-in-class virtualization of Windows SharePoint Services, Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. More information about these findings is available at http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/solution-business-apps.aspx

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semYOU, the Free App Computing System

semYOU, the free app computing system that makes using software and the Internet much easier, will be available starting today at www.semyou.com. Local software installation, purchased software and tedious updates are finally a thing of the past. The innovative app computing system from the startup firm semYOU provides the most important functions, including office, entertainment and communication functions, through free cloud computing applications. Every application is just a click away.

semYOU app computing presents a brand-new approach to using software: the large number of free power applications allows all tasks to be completed easily over the Internet through cloud computing – without installation, from any computer in the world. Personal documents, files, music and photos, task lists or notes are available anytime, anywhere. Another advantage: the personalized semYOU desktop looks the same regardless of where login takes place – in the office, at home or at the Internet cafe.

This makes the semYOU app computing system very different from other cloud computing providers, who typically offer only a simple online hard drive. At the core of this new Internet-based operating system lies the free and convenient use of many different applications for home and business customers. semYOU is not only a web desktop, but thanks to its new app store, it’s also a free tool suite with more than 25 different ad-free applications that make buying software unnecessary. Over the next several weeks, more semYOU apps will be released, including an Enterprise Suite with special applications for businesses. Because semYOU is not based on HTML5 but on Microsoft’s Silverlight technology, for the first time web applications can offer functions that were previously reserved only for rich client applications.

August 2010 marked the release of the first beta version of semYOU. Since then, the app computing system has been continuously optimized with the help of users. semYOU Version 1.0, released today, consists of a web desktop and an affiliated app store. After login, all applications can be run in three different ways: via the semYOU web desktop, directly via the app store or through a local link on desktop PCs, notebooks or netbooks.

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Ultra High Speed PCIe SSD Drives with 12 TB Capacity by Foremay

On January 20, Foremay, Inc., a leader of technology innovation in solid state drives and one of the world’s Top 10 SSD OEMs, announced volume shipping of its EC188 D-series PCIe SSD solution with standard PCIe card host interfaces. The EC188 D-series PCIe SSD product line is designed for high speed, high IOPS, and high concurrent access servers and workstations with x4 PCIe, x8 PCIe or x16 PCIe slots. The EC188 D-series PCIe flash hard drives have ultra-high speeds up to 4.0 GB/s for reading and 3.8 GB/s for writing in hexa bus slot configurations. It also has ultra-high IOPS of up to 250,000 for both read and write. Its hexa bus slot configuration brings the capacity up to 12 Terabytes, or 12,000 GB.

Application examples for EC188 PCIe SSD drives include:

– Cloud computing servers
– Database storage such as Oracle, MySQL and SQL Severs
– 3G/4G Wireless Mobile Content, Mobile Video/TV and Mobile Internet Systems
– High Performance and High Reliability Banking Systems
– High Responsive Real Time Processing Servers for Stock / Security Exchanges
– I/O Dense Servers/Workstations such as Mail Servers, E-commerce Servers, Data servers, Online Gaming Servers, Web Hosting Severs, and Video Streaming Servers
– Recording/editing/transmitting of film, HD video, and HDTV
– High Concurrent Reading Systems such as Commercial IPTV and VOD Systems
– High Concurrent Writing Systems such as Public Security Surveillance Video Recorders
– EAD / IC design simulation, extraction and verification
– High Speed Enterprise IT Systems and Data Centers
– Fault Tolerant Applications
– High Speed Data Acquisition and Collection
– Medical Imaging
– Scientific Research
– 3D Imaging and Modeling

EC188 D-series PCIe SSD Availability

EC188 D-series PCIe SSD drives are now shipping in volume from single bus slot to hexa bus slot configurations. For more information about specifications and pricing of the EC188 D-series PCIe SSD, please contact info@foremay.net

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