Posts Tagged ‘Windows’

Where Next for My PC

August 25, 2010

I have been pondering this for quite some time:

Where is the PC going, and what substantial changes are likely for the operating system and for productivity software?

Keywords here for all of us: cloud, mobility and context.

Lately, Apple and Mac media has been asking, “What is Apple doing for Mac OSX 10.7? …for IOS 5?  Lately, Windows 7 has received some deservedly good press, and I wonder what is in store for Windows 8… Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the tech media about “thin clients” and “cloud apps” in lieu of locally executed productivity applications running on a “screamer” desktop PC. Hmmm… So, where is all this going? Well, I’ll tell you!

Minimal Local Storage – no petabytes, and probably not even terabytes. Here, the thin client pundits probably are on to something, but I don’t think they see the forrest for the trees just yet. What storage resources you have locally may really need to be quite small if you can utilize many devices and servers. The real evolution I expect to see will be with the file system…

Distributed File System – a combination of NAS and SAN functions with a substantial layer of security. I may have a folder of documents stored physically anywhere – on an Apple server, a Microsoft server, an AT&T server, a Google server, a Yahoo server, on my desktop hard drive, in flash in my iPhone – anywhere, and I don’t want to need to know where.

  • I need to be able to have instant access to my document files anywhere and anytime.
  • I need to be sure that I have exclusive access to my files.
  • I need to be sure that all my files are strongly encrypted to keep the server owner honest and to defeat the likely hacker.
  • I need to be able to share any file with anyone I designate.
  • I need to be able to define the organization of my documents and folders of documents without regard to the physical location of a file.
  • I need to have the same file organization presented to me regardless of which physical computing device I am using.
  • I need to be able to access certain files even when a local device is turned off or is not at hand (multiple device aware).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event of a local computer failure (locally fault-tolerant).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event of a remote server failure (remote fault-tolerant).
  • I need to be able to access certain files even in the event a network failure (network fault-tolerant).

Gesture-Based User Input System – gestures, but not necessarily touch or mouse. Here, I think that Apple is right on track. Mouse behavior has been exquisitely refined, touch interfaces are being diligently defined, cameras are being built into every display device. The next step is to extend type, point, click, touch and swipe to arbitrary surfaces and new hand gestures in the air. Any time, now… I’m waiting…

Agile Display System – my display “desktop” moves with me to the best display system that I have access to at any moment.  As I move from room to room, building to building or city to city, I want my work and my display desktop to follow me and be visible to me on the best display device I have access to wherever I am seamlessly and instantly at my command – with a gesture of some sort to cue and command the device and use it.

Contextual Environment Anticipates My Needs – community-aware, activity-aware, time-of-day-aware and location-aware. Who am I with with right now and who I am meeting with later in the day, what I was just doing and what is scheduled next on my calendar and what is queued on my To-Do List, what the time of day is and what do I usually do at this time of day and what is scheduled next, where am I now and where am I going next – all this has a direct bearing on what I want to do with my computer right now! I want my computer to anticipate my every move. This is a BIG effort to complete.

Unobtrusive Automatic Refinement – settings to accommodate the “cloud”, mobility and context should change automatically based upon limitations and failures encountered, additions to my community, appearances of new devices and services, and new collaborations.

Identification – this is key to secure sharing and hacker warfare. If your credentials are unknown, you don’t get in. How to assemble a set of trusted credentials? How to verify them unobtrusively? How to manage and maintain them? How to revoke them? How to detect spoofing and challenge the credential? Well, that requires some finesse, new standards and some user education.

If you ask me, this sounds like another decade of significant opportunity in this industry’s products and services – and a tremendous life cycle extension for the PC and its OS and applications.

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Outstanding Software for my Mac

June 3, 2009

“I love my Mac!” Yes, it looks good on my desk, and it’s less of a hacker target than a Windows PC, but that’s not why I love my Mac… MacOSX and Apple applications are stable and unobtrusive, preferences and settings are always logically organized, and features are intuitive to use. MacOSX “plug and play” accommodation of peripheral devices of all kind is instant and reliable. MacOSX runs the best software around in my opinion, and the Mac user interface that these applications implement is remarkably consistent from application to application – and that’s not true of Microsoft Windows and many popular Windows applications. That’s my “humble opinion”.

The last time my Mac froze was – well, let me see – was months ago – maybe even last year… I don’t have to struggle with my Mac to do what I am setting out to do – I just “do it”, and my Mac always “just works” – my work is in the foreground, and my Mac is in the background, and that’s the way it should be. It’s that simple.

Oh, and one other thing, some of the best software that my Mac runs are Open Source UNIX applications – Open Source is free. You can’t beat that!

I’m a “one-man-band”, and I have a lot of varied tasks to do. Consequently, I use a lot of software, and I am always looking for something better to save me time when what I currently use doesn’t quite “cut the mustard”. So, here is a list of the outstanding software that I use:

  • Apple Safari, Mail, Quicktime, iChat, Preview, TextEdit, Dictionary, Time Machine, Exposé, Spaces, Spotlight (all components of MacOSX), and Safari and Quicktime are available for Windows users, too
  • Apple iLife – iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand
  • Apple iWork – Keynote, Pages and Numbers – another release cycle, and I may not even need Microsoft Office anymore
  • OmniGraffle (OmniGroup) – so much better than Visio… and Visio compatible across platforms!
  • ViaCAD 3D (Punch Software) – elegant 3D drawing and rendering
  • Google Earth – just “wow” – still… and free
  • Gimp – friendlier UI than Photoshop’s and just as feature-rich – and open source (free)
  • GraphicConverter (Thorstem Lemke) – the Swiss army knife of image utilities
  • Vuescan (Hamrick) – the Swiss army knife for scanners from virtually all manufacturers manufactured from the days of antiquity to the present and able to expose all the scanner features the hardware supports (even features that the manufacturer’s own software doesn’t support!)
  • Expression Media (Microsoft) – a media file cataloger and metadata editor – Apple Aperture could learn a thing or two from this application
  • Aperture (Apple) – photo “light table” with tremendous nondestructive editing features – combined with VueScan, GraphicConverter, Gimp and Expression Media, I have a complete image solution – my point is that there is room for fewer and fuller-featured applications here – no one application does it all…
  • Perian – an Open Source Swiss army knife for Quicktime compatibility for a huge variety of otherwise unsupported media formats – works automatically when it needs to – no fuss, no muss…
  • MacFuse and NTFS 3G – open source file system extensions provide seamless automatic compatibility with file systems of all kind including Sun and WindowsNT – no fuss, no muss on a networked shared server volume anywhere…
  • Letter Opener – a Mail plugin to automatically and seamlessly display Windows Exchange DAT file attachments – no fuss, no muss…
  • iStat Pro – a really nifty system status widget for Dashboard
  • DevonAgent (Devon Software) – web crawler and search tool
  • EasyFind (Devon Software) – file cataloger – Spotlight-like, but different – and free
  • DiskWarrior (Alsoft) – flawless drive directory recovery has rescued my crashed drives several times over the years…
  • CarbonCopyCloner or CCC (Bombich Software)- drive duplication utility “must have”, and it’s “donationware” from a generous developer
  • FileSalvage (SubRosaSoft) – file recovery and “uneraser”
  • Little Snitch – an super outgoing stateful firewall
  • ClamXAV – a simple open source antivirus application

I use a lot of excellent software, too – not quite in the outstanding “class” in my opinion, but still excellent applications that I don’t struggle with to use:

  • Apple’s MobileMe – a suite of web-based services and applications – still room for improvement, but this Apple product finally works reliably and with some “polish”
  • Microsoft Office – yes, I know, Microsoft and bloated to “beat the band”, but it works very well and is almost universally compatible with the rest of the world without any extra effort
  • NeoOffice – MacOSX-native and “tweaked” OpenOffice port can easily and completely replace Apple’s iWork and also Microsoft Office and even does more to boot – NeoOffice feels “Mac-like” unlike OpenOffice
  • Acrobat Pro (Adobe) – does everything “pdf” that I need…
  • Firefox – open source browser can easily and completely replace Safari – prefer and use Safari, but Firefox works with every ISP when there is a browsing problem with Safari – it’s my “back-up”
  • Thunderbird – open source e-mail client can easily and completely replace Mail – I prefer and use Mail, but Thunderbird works with every ISP when there is a mail problem with Mail – it’s my “back-up”
  • Toast Titanium (Roxio) – DVD burning for anything for anyone on any platform
  • MYOB (aclivity, was Best) – simple and capable financial accounting software
  • GnuGP – open source PGP replacement – I used to use it – excellent
  • PGP (PGP Corp) – the real thing, and they host my credentials, and my clients may insist that I use PGP instead of GnuPG
  • Miro – open source “iTunes” for video podcasts
  • DevonThinkPro (Devon Software) – project vault and database for documents, media, mail messages, URL’s, search results, thoughts and snippets from anywhere…
  • CopyCatX (SubRosaSoft)- drive duplication software like CCC but a little different…
  • MAMP – current open source Apache, MySQL and PHP server apps for MacOSX adds missing pieces to turn my MacOSX client computer into a MacOSX server for these common applications
  • PersonalBrain Free (theBrain) – this is mind mapping software that I am still learning to use – very clever software – maybe even indispensable if I ever have the time to master it
  • Leopard Cache Cleaner (Northern Softworks) – when my Mac is “cranky” and needs a system-level tuneup
  • IPNetMonitorX (Sustainable Softworks) – this nifty network detective tool is far better than Apple’s Network Utility
  • McAfee VirusScan – yes, I groan, too, but I can take my computer into a client location and satisfy their virus concerns, and it does work heuristically, and it is pretty much invisible and as unobtrusive as an antivirus application can be

I am confident that there is a lot of outstanding Mac software that I am unacquainted with or that I have no need for – Intego security products like VirusBarrier and FileMaker database products like Bento or their flagship product by their own name come to my brain, for example. And I am sure that many would disagree with my assessments or with my distinction between outstanding and excellent – that’s OK – I have my humble opinions, and it is quite alright for you to have yours as well! I won’t argue… My point is that there is really well polished and reliable software for me no matter what I need to do, and a lot of it is free, and this software keeps my brain focused on my work instead of on my Mac!

I guess that I love my Mac software – it makes my Mac almost invisible – and that’s the way a computer should be.

Poster’s note – lots of trademarks here, Microsoft, Adobe and Apple in particular… Also, every application I use conforms to the license and is supported by a valid and payed-for license or an appropriate paid shareware fee.

U-verse runs Windows in the Set Top Box…

May 26, 2009

What a surprise – AT&T has put a Microsoft Windows product in my home… Well, that really shouldn’t have been a surprise. In my job, I have had some foreknowledge about AT&T U-verse service, and I knew that Microsoft was the major software supplier for the U-verse service offering. I didn’t know some of the “finer” details, though – not until I had some problems… 

AT&T U-verse service is a pure digital service. The video service is an IPTV over VDSL implementation that employs the standard AVC/H.264 codec in a set top box. I am a new U-verse customer this month! I am currently quite satisfied with U-verse and give it a “Rave” thumbs-up. The service had some initial hiccups, and the service techs who responded were happy to let me look (and look closely) over their shoulders. 

Calls to U-verse technical support were answered by folk in the Philippines who were polite and patient, and they all spoke English excellently. But none had any real technical knowledge aside from what their computer help screens told them. The first troubleshooting steps: restart the set top box, then power cycle the set top box, then power cycle the gateway box. I am thinking to myself that this is how I do battle with Microsoft Windows… And then it hit me – maybe the set top box IS running Windows – huh… Sure enough, a quick check of the System Information screen from the set top box shows it to be running Microsoft Windows CE 5.0. That should not have been a surprise to me, but it was. 

More surprises. The service was initially quite unreliable. After a short period of time (10 to 30 minutes) audio would begin to stutter and video would suffer pixelation defects and momentary image freezes until the stream was lost and I was left with a static image and an unresponsive set top box. The local service techs who were dispatched to my home can query the NOC and my residential gateway from their laptops, and they can see all the fault and performance monitoring statistics associated with my service. The NOC compiles the PM primitives and parameters that I helped to define many years ago at ITU-T and ANSI from the cabinet at the curb: ES, SES, UAS, LOSS, LOFS etc. The gateway box compiles CV and FEC counts and a host of other statistics. It was not clear what the standard for the FEC feature was – G.993.1 (2004/06) defines a VDSL FEC strategy, and I presume that it is employed with a low redundancy value or 2 or 4 by AT&T. G.775 (I participated in the drafting of this standard at ITU-T some years ago – it was fun!) with the “famous” annex provides a huge variety of alternative FEC strategies to employ – hardly a standard… I would be curious to know more about what AT&T is really doing for FEC in the U-verse TV service. 

I am happy to report that my U-verse service is currently stable and working very well for me, now – for almost exactly one week – with 2 ES, 0 SES, 0 UAS, 2700 corrected blocks and 7 uncorrectable blocks. I would like to see 0 uncorrectable blocks, though…

This was really quality time for me with the service techs. I am looking forward to my next service failure!

[Poster’s note: Windows, Windows CE and U-verse are trademarked products and services of Microsoft and AT&T respectively.]