Thursday, April 30, 2009

How is the Dell Adamo like a Paris Fashion Show?

Well, if you read Engadget, you'd know already.  The Dell Adamo is like a Paris fashion show because, like a Paris fashion show, it looks great from a distance, but once you get up close, you realize you've paid a whole bunch of money for not much material.

I wrote an entry not too long ago comparing the technical specifications of the Adamo to those of the MacBook Air.  Engadget, however, got down-and-dirty with the Adamo, making a very close inspection of everything from fit-and-finish to the Windows Experience Index.  What did they find out?  Well, you've basically got to be a shallow socialite non-tech-savvy elitist with cash burning a hole in your pocket to buy an Adamo.

Well, ok, that might be a little over the top, but Dell's premium offering is definitely lacking in certain areas.  According to Engadget's review, the machine buries the CPU usage needle when performing simple tasks, such as opening a web page or running a handful of simple applications simultaneously.  In short, it's not as beefy as you would expect a high-priced, modern mobile computer to be.

On the other hand, this computer probably wasn't designed for high-powered users, but more for users who want to be able to perform some simple computing tasks in style.  Perhaps a status item for high-powered executives?  Who knows?

Check out the full review on

Apple’s Leap into Chip Design

According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple Inc. has been snatching up out-of-work silicon chip designers like it’s going out of style.  According to the WSJ article, Apple Inc. has dozens of job postings for people familiar with everything from ARM-based chip design to video controller design for high-definition video playback.  Industrial experts think that Apple is getting ready to update the hardware that drives the infamous iPhone, and in classic form, has decided to keep as much of the design details as they can under wraps.  This time around, however, that means going so far as to not outsource chip design.

Check out the Wall Street Journal’s article here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Microsoft Licensing: An Exercise in the Absurd

I understand that I might be just a little behind in this rant, but I feel, because of recent experiences, that I have a right to go off a little bit.  And I also feel that anyone who has had a similar experience will agree with me.  Working with Microsoft on licensing issues is a gigantic pain in the ass.

Recently, I was working with a coworker on his personal computer.  He was complaining that his computer was shutting down, acting strangely, and had started emitting an odd odor.  After a little digging around inside the computer’s case, I figured out that the odor was ozone, and the machine had fried it’s motherboard.  This being an older Compaq computer, the motherboard was no long available from the manufacturer as a new part, and rather than buy my coworker a pull from a “working” computer from eBay, I decided to find him a new motherboard that would support his current CPU and peripherals.

That was a mistake.

I had never had to deal with Microsoft’s Activation software before.  I got the new motherboard into the computer, connected everything, and turned the power on.  Everything was looking great until I tried to log the machine on.  It looked as if it were going to get to the desktop, and then it opened the Activation dialog box, just as you would expect from a brand new computer.  However, when I tried to actually activate Windows, it returned a message saying Windows had already been activated, and returned me to the login screen.  No matter which of the four available users I tried to log in, it sent me to the Activation dialog, just to be returned to the login screen.

I then tried calling Microsoft in an attempt to fix the situation.  Well, first of all, I found out that they aren’t very free with their phone numbers.  I searched high and low on their website, only to be directed in a circular fashion all over the site.  I then tried Google, and found around 7 different phone numbers, all of which were incorrect.  I finally found a site that listed 1-888-571-2048 as the activation hotline.  I spoke with a machine first, which hung up on me three times before I figured out that # would get me to a human being.  This human being then connected me to Microsoft’s customer support hotline (1-800-936-5700) who then connected me to HP’s customer support line when he found out that I’d swapped motherboards.  At that point I hung up, knowing that HP wouldn’t re-activate a computer that no longer had their motherboard in it.

I understand that Microsoft is trying to protect its interests by making it more difficult to pirate copies of their operating system from one hard drive to another.  I know that they have had problems with users “ghosting” images from one machine to another, bypassing registration.  I know that companies have a right to make money off of their hard work.  I just don’t understand why they can’t work a little more closely with users who just want to get their computers working again.

Apple Monopoly? Let’s Check the Numbers…

I was thumbing through the April 20th issue of eWeek this morning when I came across an article entitled “Apple monopoly”, penned by Jim Rapoza, eWeek’s Chief Technology Analyst (basically the same article can be found here, on eWeek’s website).  Being a fan of Apple and their products, I thought I’d see what Mr. Rapoza had to say.

I was surprised, no shocked, to read what Mr. Rapoza had to say.  In his article, he lays out an argument suggesting that Apple has positioned itself to be a monopoly in the technology industry.  He argues that, of the largest technology manufacturers in the industry, Apple eclipses Microsoft, Intel, and even Google, placing Apple, on a monopoly severity scale from 1 to 10, at a 9.

His argument, in my opinion, is fundamentally flawed, however.  He argues:

In the Apple universe, competition is pretty much nonexistent.  There’s only one hardware provider, and Apple dominates the software side as well, with the third-party vendors playing by very strict rules.

To me, what he is saying is that Apple maintains very tight control over products branded with their name.  I understand where this could be construed as a “monopoly”, however one has to take a look at the bigger picture.

According to Gartner’s data on PC sales for the first quarter of 2009, over 15 million computers were sold in the United States alone.  Of these 15 million, 4.2 million were shipped by HP, 3.9 million by Dell, and just over 2 million by Acer.  Apple, however shipped only 1.1 million, or 7.4% of computers shipped to customers in the US.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Apple is a distinct type of computer, and can be looked at as a distinct market.  I completely disagree with that concept.  Sure, this might have been true when Apple released the first Macintosh, 25 years ago, but it’s hardly true now.  With versions of major software titles available for both the Apple and PC platforms, the choice between a MacBook Pro and an HP notebook is more personal preference than technical necessity.  It’s difficult to argue that Apple is a distinct market when you can do exactly the same work on one of their computers as you can on a PC from Dell, HP, Lenovo, or Acer.  Therefore, Apples and PCs share a common market, and can be considered suitable substitutes for each other.

Which leads me to Wikipedia.  Mr. Rapoza, in his article, attributes his definition of “monopoly” to Wikipedia’s entry for the economic definition of the word.  He states:

Wikipedia’s definition of a monopoly hinges on two points: One is that a monopoly exists when “a specific individual or enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.”  The other is that a monopoly process occurs when “a firm gains persistently greater market share than what is expected under perfect competition.”

Unfortunately, he left out a part of Wikipedia’s definition.  It is:

Monopolies are thus characterized by a lack of economic competition for the good or service that they provide and a lack of viable substitute goods.

It is the last seven words that I’m interested in.  According to Gartner, the “market” includes all computer manufacturers, including Apple.  This would imply that a PC would be a viable substitute for an Apple computer, and vice versa, and since we have already established that major software titles are available for both the Apple and PC platforms, we know that technology itself isn’t creating distinct markets.  Given that Apple only contributed 7.4% to computer sales for the first quarter of this year, it would be safe to say they do not have significant enough market share to determine the terms on which people have access to computers.  And since Apple sales were actually down 1.1% from Q1 of 2008 to Q1 of 2009, they obviously aren’t gaining more market share than competition should allow.

Mr. Rapoza constructed an argument around the concept that a company that tightly controls its product is, in essence, creating a monopoly.  By definition, however, monopolies are created within a market, not just within a company.  Saying Apple is a monopoly is akin to saying Pepsi is a monopoly.  Just because a certain percentage of soda drinkers drink only Pepsi, and Pepsi keeps tight control over their formula, doesn’t mean that Pepsi has a monopoly in the soft drink market.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Net Neutrality in Europe… Coming to a Vote

The debate on Internet neutrality, or “net neutrality”, will come to a head in a vote by European politicians on May 5th, according to The article, written by Glyn Moody, outlines beautifully just exactly what is at stake.

One of the biggest problems surrounding the net neutrality debate is the fact that many people, especially politicians, seem to understand what allowing ISPs to shape network traffic really means. The ISPs claim it will allow them to more effectively allocate their limited bandwidth, but the end result will actually be that they have the ability to limit access to content served by competitors. It will also allow ISPs to cap the bandwidth available to their users, while charging outrageous premiums for access to bandwidth considered above and beyond what they have deemed necessary for home use.

Click here to read Glyn Moody’s article, written for

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Windows Live Writer

Recently, Microsoft has been pushing their own brand of mobile, “life style” software, which they package under the name of Windows Live.  The Windows Live system consists of a collection of web services and complimentary freely downloadable software for your Windows PC.

Typically not a huge believer in these sorts of service/software packages that post my information to the World Wide Weird, I’ve avoided Windows Live like the plague, that is, until I discovered Windows Live Writer.

When I think of Microsoft, I think of a huge company that is only interested in pushing their own products down the throats of unsuspecting (well now really, don’t we all know the game by now?) PC buyers all over the world.  So when I started reading about Live Writer, I was surprised at how non-Microsoft friendly their new PCs-Are-For-Everyone software is.

If you’re not sure exactly what Live Writer is, you’re probably not alone.  Basically, it’s blogging software.  Think of it as a very cut-down version of Microsoft Word that allows you to post directly to your blog using templates.  It allows you to quickly and easily insert content, such as pictures, movies, and maps into your blog, taking care of the tedious task of editing tags.  It also features inline spell-checking and offline draft editing.  In short, it’s making writing this post a lot easier.

And this blog is hosted by Blogger, which is a Google company, which brings me back to what I was referring to earlier.  Microsoft finally caught on to the idea that, if they can’t be your service provider, at least they can be the developer of the software that you use to take advantage of the service.  And as much as we hate to admit it, Microsoft does make some decent software.

Oracle and MySQL: The End of an Era?

It seems like every time I turn around, somebody’s buying MySQL.  First Sun, now Oracle?  Who’s next?

Yes, perhaps I’m being a little over-dramatic, but every time the open-source database giant changes hands, about half of the web hosting world holds their breath to see if their software licensing is going to change.  We got lucky with Sun, but Oracle’s business is making money from database software.  This time around, we might not be so fortunate.

InformationWeek posted an article this morning about the fate of MySQL under Oracle leadership.  According to the article, Karen Padir, who is the new manager of the MySQL database system, spoke up against those who believe Oracle is going to abandon ship on the open-source licensing of MySQL.  She cited several instances where Oracle has worked to support the open-source community, including re-working the licensing on some of their own produces to mesh with the licensing of those using the products.

Of course, Padir was in no position to comment on anything specific she has heard from Oracle higher-ups, so the rest of us are left to wonder about the fate of MySQL.  At this point nothing is certain, other than the absolute uprising that would occur were Oracle to deprive the IT masses of this pinnacle piece of software.

A Clean Computer is a Happy Computer

Recently, I was asked to troubleshoot some issues a friend was facing with his home computer.  The symptoms were as follows: after using the computer for a while, his internet connection would seem to stop working for no apparent reason.  He would go through some steps to reset the connection, such as power-cycling his DSL modem and rebooting his computer.  This would bring the connection back up for a while, but it would soon fail again.  Not too long after this starting happening, his computer started to spontaneously turn off.  We’re not talking a blue-screen-of-death, or even just a natural shutdown.  We’re talking one moment it’s running fine, the next it’s turned off.

He brought his tower in to my office to have me take a look at it.  The first thing I suspected, with the sudden loss of power, was either a bad power supply or heat issues.  Knowing he had just replaced his power supply not long ago, I decided to crack the machine open, turn it on with the case opened, and see if he’d lost any fans.  What I saw when I opened it shocked, appalled, and frankly sort of impressed me.

I had not seen dust like that in a long, long time.  It looked like someone had emptied their vacuum cleaner bag into his computer case.  Half an hour and three air cans later (I’m only slightly exaggerating), I finally started to recognize some of the internal components.

I’m still working on his computer, but I’m going to guess that most of his issues stem from the amount of dirt and dusty he had allowed to accumulate under the hood of his computer.  Many computer problems can be avoided entirely by ten free minutes every month and a can of compressed “air” from your local Walmart.  Take it from someone who has seen all sorts of failures: it’s a small hassle that will prevent huge failures in the future.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

FEMA Set to Twitter Emergencies

Yeah, I totally bought this right up to the end:

InfoWorld: Twitter added to federal emergency response network

Even funnier than the article, however, are the number of people who posted below the article, not realizing it's an April Fool's Day joke.


Go-Go Gadget Android!!!

Microsoft might have some real competition in the netbook market soon, thanks to Google's fledgling operation system, known as Android.

According to, the open-source operating system which has made its way on to smartphones is now being tested by HP for use on their low-cost netbooks, right along side Linux and Microsoft Windows XP.  Microsoft is planning a release of Windows 7 that more directly caters to netbooks, however chipmaker Freescale, which has recently started making chipsets for netbooks, is planning a chipset for Android.

So what does this mean?  Hopefully it means that somebody is finally going to give Microsoft a run for their money in the world of operating systems.  As an avid fan of Linux, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

Conficker.C: The Pin Has Been Pulled

April 1st has come and gone, and now we wait.

At least that's what we're being told.  According to, now is the time to hold our breath, empty our bank accounts, and stock up on bottled water and canned goods, because the worm is a-comin'.

I, on the other hand, am skeptical.  We've seen these things come and go.  We expect a bang, end up with a fizzle, and congratulate ourselves on thwarting yet another attempt to bring the interwebs to a crashing halt.  Who's to say that this isn't yet another worm scare that's going to turn out to be a mere fraction of the threat experts are saying it will be?  The blogosphere tends toward alarmist reactions.  We've seen this before.

However, on the other hand, we may be overdue for a "big one".  And from what people are saying, this could be it.  With an army of 'bots waiting for orders, this could be the real deal.  All we can do right now is patch our servers and personal computers, make sure there are fresh batteries in our flashlights, and wait and see.