Tuesday, February 21, 2006

iTunes - the Future of TV

A while Back I started talking about the IP-TV future. Of course, I don't consider my thoughts about the IP TV future to be visionary, but rather, my thoughts are an obvious progression from the current emerging state of televsion technology.

With the advent of iTunes videos and Google Video, as well as the talk about how telcos are prepping and market-testing their own IP-TV services, there has been a lot of buzz about how IP-TV and unbundling of TV networks in cable offerings will kill small networks and, by proxy, eliminate the made-for-tv productions that they currently produce. While I don't disagree with the former, I totally disagree with the latter point - case in point, NBC's marketing campaign for the new drama Conviction.

NBC has teamed up with Apple to offer the pilot on iTunes as a free download. Why? because this generates buzz, and potential interest in the show. In addition, feedback on the pilot will help dictate if the show should be cancelled, or give possible indication of re-working. It will also give the network an early idea of the popularity and maybe even determine pricing.

I think that iTunes, Google Video and the like are the real future of TV.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

VoIP's Apples and Oranges

I am a big fan of CNET, and not only do I use it for my own product research, but I reccomend it to others as well. But I must have just read the most useless review on their site - a head to head comparison of VoIP services entitled - CNET prizefight: Skype vs. Vonage - CNET reviews .

The reason why I feel that this article is usless is because not all VoIP systems are created alike, nor are they all a good fit for the various scenarios in which one would use them. From my perch, VoIP systems come in three forms - Phone replacement services, like Vonage, and Optimum Voice, Voice peer-to-peer services like Skype, AIM and MSN Messenger, and services that are kind of a Hybrid between the two.

Make no mistakes, Vonage is going after ma bell'. They want you to dump your landline phone for their service. They want you to view Vonage as you do your landline phone, only cheaper and with different plumbing.

Skype is primarily a way for people to contact each other using their PCs. It's lightweight enough that it works great with a Wi-fi hotspot and a laptop or in a library or internet café. As an added bonus, Skype lets you connect to the Public phone network and can get you a phone number in a dozen countries as well.

So for Cnet to compare the two on, say, 911 interoprability - is stupid, because while Vonage's business model requires it to adapt, I don't think that anyone has downloaded Skype expecting 911 to work.

I used to have Vonage and Optimum voice and used them to call people on their regular phones. I have downloaded Skype, but I am still waiting for someone else I know to get it.

If you're interested, click the link to the left and call me.

Linux for Kids?

Someone recently turned me on to Ubuntu linux . I went there and ordered their free CD's (they haven't got here yet, but hey, they're free so I'm not complaining!) I also noticed their spinoff project - Edubuntu, an educational version of Linux.

I downloaded their ISO, and Installed it on my Compaq Laptop - one that I have had problems with installing previous versions of Linux on. While I am quite comfortable at compiling my own Kernel, I prefer not to, for a myriad of reasons. But I have to say, that this Linux install was by far the easiest I have ever done in about 10 years of casual linux use. It recognized all of my hardware out of the box and installed easily.

As soon as I got it up and running, I tried to figure out how to get it to work for my kids. While a lot of the Open Source Software bundled with Edubuntu was available for other Distros, what got me was some of the subtle touches. The kid friendly UI for example, with its oversized and kid-themed icons, which made them more clickable to little hands. My kids loved the Glibcompris (sp?) games, and the only thing I need to do for them is a them a kid-sized mouse.All in all, I am loving it so far, and might start reccomending it to friends - after all, you can take an old PC, throw this on it, and it can entertain your kids for a while. Besides, all schools now have Windows PCs in their computer labs. At least your kids will get the best of both worlds. And because it is Linux, there are other things that I can teach him - for example, I think after I buy a kid-sized mouse, I will teach my four year-old how to write shell scripts. (So what if he doesn't quite know how to read yet :)).

Read more at www.edubuntu.org/

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Printing through thin air

I was reecently approached by a couple of friends and asked a bunch of questions about network print servers, so I thought I would expound on the subject a bit with a little FAQ of my own. In general netwotrk print servers, if they work correctly, provide great convenience, however the trick is getting them to work.

What is a Network Print Server?
Simply put a Network Print Server is a device that provides you with a way to connect your printer directly to your home or office network.

Why would I want one?
There are several reasons, but if you are a home user, there are two main reasons why you might want one: a) You have several computers and want to share one or more printers with them or b)You have a wireless laptop and wireless network, and you want to be able to print without plugging the printer into the laptop.

Can't I share a printer without buying one or more of these devices?
Yes you can. Regardless if you're running Windows, MacOS, or a Linux variant, almost all operating systems will allow you to connect a printer to your computer and share it with others on your network.

So what's the benefit of a Network Print Server over Printer Sharing?
The biggest downside to printer sharing is that it requires the print-sharing computer to be on and connected to the printer. Even if this isn't an issue (i.e. you have a computer that is always turned on and can connect a printer to it), if someone on the network prints a large document it will potentially effect the performance of the computer that the printer is attached to.

What's the difference between wired and wireless print servers?
Essentially, a wired print server connects to your network via an ethernet cable, while a wireless one connects to your network using a wireless connection.Otherwise there is absolutely no difference between the two.

Do I need a wireless print server to print from my wireless laptop?
No, so long as your wireless access point or router has a free network (ethernet) port to plug in your wired print server to and provided that you can place your printer within a wire's reach of your router.

Which is better a wired or a wireless print server?
Typically speaking, a wired one is better for many reasons - less setup and configuration, faster speeds (100Mbps ethernet is still typically faster than even 108Mbps wireless - explaining why is for another article) and they typically cost about 40% less.

So why would I even consider buying a wireless one then?
For the same reasons listed above - your router doesn't have extra ports, or you want to put the printer in an area where its not feasible to connect a wire from it to your router.

I have two/three/more printers, how many of these print servers do I need?
There are many models out there, and while many are made for a single printer, still others have 2 or 3 ports. A two-port one might be ideal if you want to connect both a laser and a photo printer to your network. However, the downside is both printers need to be near each other for this to work. In theory, you could buy as many print servers as you'd like for each of the printers you have so long as you have enough network ports to plug them into.

Do all print servers work with all printers?
No. This is why it is important to check the compatibility lists first. While there are no guarantees that a particular printer will not work with a print server if it isn't on the compatibility list, you will probably not be able to get tech support from the print server's manufacturer if it isn't.

Do any printers come with these built-in or as add-on modules?
Many business printers (like those from HP) come with wired and/or wireless print servers as either built-in or optional models. Many consumer models do not, specifically on the low-end (for example, most HP printer with network print servers retail for $75-100 more than their non-network siblings, which means that it is unlikely you will find a network print server built-in to a $69 printer).

What is the benefit of a built-in print server vs. buying one from a third party?
The benefit is that you know that it is more likely to work, and/or at least you will be able to get support from one company for it. For example, if I have an HP printer with an HP network print server, HP technical support cannot pawn me off on someone else. While if I have an Epson printer with a Linksys print server - Linksys will tell me to call Epson and Vice Versa. However, built-in print servers typically cost more than buying a separate unit, and if you change printers, you will typically have to buy a new printer with a network print server as well, since you probably will not be able to swap it out (there are some exceptions to this rule, namely HP's JetDirect cards).

I have an all-in-one (MFP), will the network print server also allow me to Scan/Fax/etc. over the network?
To the best of my knowledge, the network print servers, in general, only support printing. If you need to scan something or receive a fax to your computer, you will need to plug it in directly. (If anyone knows of any exceptions to this rule, please let me know!)

If hope you have found this informative, and If you think I am wrong or if you'd like to ask and add more questions to this FAQ, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Verizon One Phone - First Impressions

If you are like me, or any other broadband user, you have the 'desk'. This desk probably has 3 or 4 devices on it - A telephone, a wired or wireless router, a cable/dsl modem and/or your computer. It is probably also a mess of cables and clutter as well. The there is the power issue too - All of those devices and their huge power bricks probably make it difficult for you to find space to plug them all in. The premise of the new Verizon One phone from Verizon is to consolidate all of that.

The Verizon One phone is not only a cordless land line phone, (with a base station speakerphone, I might add) but also combines a DSL modem, and Wired and Wireless router all into one unit. This of course might have started to Pique your interest, but as the infomercial salesman says - 'But wait, there's more!'

The Verizon One has a nice 7-inch touch-screen LCD screen that helps it serve as an internet connected appliance. Not only does it show caller IDs, the time and weather, but it can also serve up web snippets, the local weather, your calendar, and hand-scrawled notes for others in your family. Some might say that it's trying to replace not only the mass of cables and boxes on your desk, but the notes and calendars magneted to the fridge.

'But that's not all!'

You can also upload pictures to it and use them as the screensaver, so in essence, the phone becomes a digital picture frame as well.

I've been using a version of the phone (thanks Yussie!) for the past few days and so far the basic setup was relatively straightforward. However, I have still yet to access the advanced features - i.e. the online calendar integration and screensaver. I hope to get them working and update my review soon.

So far the only bad thing that I have to say about the device is that from the on-screen menu the only wireless setting that I can configure in the SSID. While the Verizon One does support WEP, WPA and some other standard wireless settings that most routers support, I had to access them by logging into the Verizon One's web admin tool, something that might not be so simple to do for the average wireless user. To be fair though, my phone might have an earlier version of the software, and the production versions might have improved upon this.

More to come.