Microsoft Windows 7 – Worth Upgrading To?

June 27, 2009

win7In the past, I’ve always upgraded to the latest Microsoft Windows OS when it became available, usually within 4-5 weeks of the product launch date. I’m currently running Windows Vista 32-bit on my main desktop PC, and I’m complete happy with its performance (4 GB RAM, Intel Quad Core Processor). Just for kicks, I’ve  been running the beta version of Windows 7 OS on my 4 year-old Dell Latitude laptop for about 4 months now. I’m amazed that Win 7 runs so well on my aged laptop (2 GB memory, older Celeron 1.6 GHz Celeron processor), however, I don’t see any revolutionary updated compared to Windows Vista.

Sure, lots of people complain about how crappy Vista is, but I haven’t come across any major issues. I’ve got Vista tuned to run at top speed and it works great for what I do.

A few days ago, I got a notice from Microsoft inviting me to pre-order Windows 7 (for an October 22nd release date) for one-half the regular retail price. So, I can get the Home edition for $50 US or the Professional version for $100 US. This is nice, however, I don’t see any big reason to upgrade from Vista. Does Win 7 run twice as fast as the current Vista? Does it consume half the memory? Does it have any REALLY cool features? If not, then there probably isn’t a big compelling reason for me to upgrade.


My Palm Pre Obsession is Now Officially Over!

June 16, 2009

palm_preI’ve been enamored with the new Palm Pre smartphone (released two weeks ago), reading the Palm Pre forums several times a day. But, I’m now over it. After reading so many postings regarding heating problems, cracked screens, MS Exchange Server issues, etc. I’ve decided that the Palm Pre falls in the same corner as the G1 Android phone — a device that just isn’t ready for prime time. Of course, you have the fanboys who will defend the phone completely regardless of its flaws, but it just isn’t ready for the average business user (in my opinion).

Now, I haven’t written off the Palm Pre entirely. I’ll be watching from time to time to see if Palm comes out with some good OS updates to fix the major issues, and if a newer model of Pre comes out with the heating had hardware issues corrected. If Palm plays it right, they should have a great phone for the users. But if they stumble or fall stagnant, then they just may be finished as a company. Here’s crossing my fingers for success!


No Choice… Going with Quicken

June 16, 2009

cashWith MS Money now defunct, I really have no choice but to go with Quicken 2008 Deluxe. I checked over all the online options and other software options, but I wanted something that was mainstream and could download and reconcile my checking account entries from online data. I really liked MS Money Essentials because of it’s clean interface, so it was a little tough getting use to Quicken.

I spent some time last night and got all my accounts setup and configured, so I think I’m now back in business. Now, I didn’t know this but with MS Money the online services (for downloading transaction data) is only valid for 2 years after software purchase. So this forces you to upgrade to a newer version every two years to continue to use the online services. I believe Quicken operates the same way, so it seems that every two years I’ll have to shell out $40 US for the program (even though functionally it works the same as the older version!).


Microsoft Money… RIP

June 15, 2009

For the last several weeks I’ve been evaluating a trial verison of Microsoft Money Essentials financial software on my PC. I liked this software package because it was cheap ($20 US) and had an easy-to-use, simple interface. The other day, I opened up the application and I saw a notice that said Microsoft was no longer distributing any of the Microsoft Money products. What? It sounds like Microsoft is throwing in the towel on this one, giving Intuit’s Quicken no real competition. As such, I’ll have to stop my evaluation of MS Money and go with evaluating Quicken.

Note, that there are some online alternatives (Quicken Online, mint.com, etc.) but I didn’t like the look and responsiveness of these applications. It would be nice to have my account data “in the cloud” just in case my computer is destroyed by fire, etc., however, I have this sense of safety knowing that my data is stored locally on my PC (I guess I’m an old dog).


Major Problems with the Palm Pre?

June 14, 2009

palm_preI’ve kept a keen eye on the Palm Pre smartphone being offered by Sprint, since I have interest in developing and selling applications for that mobile platform. The Pre has been out for about one week now, and from the various forum postings I’ve read it seems to have lots and lots of problems. Some issues are related to the hardware, while others are related to the Sprint Network or WebOS operating system.

In general, I’ve found that most people will post to forums when they have a problem or issue, and not when everything is going well. So, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt. However, there seems to be some overwhelming postings revealing these issues:

  • Overheating issues while charging and while in use
  • Very limited support for Microsoft Exchange Server access
  • Alarms and notifications do not consistently work
  • Pre device prematurely reboots when closing QWERTY keyboard
  • Battery drains rapidly and will not last the entire day
  • The Pre battery can drain completely even if connected to a car charge (when running apps like the GPS Navigation)
  • The screen will prematurely crack under no load
  • Poor reception signal compared to other Sprint phones

I can understand and tolerate the various WebOS issues (since an OS update or patch should fix them), however, the hardware issues are a different story. What’s especially troublesome is the poor reception and cracking screens. This clearly indicates a hardware defect situation, but Sprint and Palm are currently dismissing it.

Of course, we need to acknowledge that the Palm Pre is version 1.0 for both the hardware and OS, and the “early adopters” are willing to put up with these issues (or simply believe they do not exist). I may need to wait until Palm comes out with a higher-quality device before I jump over to Sprint and start developing apps. Let’s hope it won’t take too long and that Palm doesn’t run out of cash!


Comcast Switched to All Digital… OK so far

June 14, 2009

comcastYesterday was the big day when Comcast in my area (Seattle) switched over to all digital. In preparation, I obtained two Set Top Boxes (STB) from Comcast a few weeks ago for my wife’s and my computer TV Tuner cards, and everything seems to be working ok. One thing I did notice on the first day, is that some channels were coming in distorted with big pixels (like when you view a dirty DVD), but that seemed to have cleared up.

So, the big switch over to digital hasn’t affected us much (aside from having to integrate a STB into my PVR system).


Apple iPhone Details Released at WWDC

June 8, 2009

Apple’s big conference was held today and they released lots of information on their new products, including the iPhone 3.0 revision. The “new” iPhone looks basically the same on the outside, but it has an incrementally improved OS, better battery life, more internal storage, and an upgraded camera. Nothing earth shattering, but some good improvements.

I know that a lot of people were waiting for Apple’s announcement before pulling the trigger on getting either the iPhone or Palm Pre phone. In my opinion, both have different strengths and weaknesses. Here’ my short list for a comparison:

Apple iPhone 3GS (new)

Strengths:

  • Very solid version 3.0 OS
  • Over 1 million owners, with 50,000 applications available
  • Works with Microsoft Exchange Activesync Server for business users
  • All of the “1.0 OS” bugs worked out
  • Long battery life
  • Large internal storage
  • Can sync with your desktop computer directly

Weaknesses:

  • The AT&T network is overloaded and slow for unlimited data usage
  • Carrier plan is pricey compared to Sprint’s unlimited plan
  • No multitasking app capability
  • AT&T Network coverage doesn’t appear to be the best

Palm Pre

Strengths:

  • New touch OS
  • Multitasking app capability
  • Sprint network is fast and reliable with good coverage
  • Slide out keyboard for those who don’t like on-screen keyboards
  • Very compact
  • Ability to sync multiple calendars and contacts (via the Internet)

Weaknesses:

  • Very new OS, with numerous bugs and gaps in features
  • Microsoft Exchange Activesync Server has serious limitations, and may not be ready for business users
  • Phone can get very very how when charging and when in use
  • Battery life has been reported to be very bad depending on what options are activated (e.g., Bluetooth, WiFi, Push Email, etc.)
  • Just released– Only 25 apps available on the Palm App Store
  • For Calendar, must use either Google Calendar or Microsoft Exchange Server
  • Everything is synced to the Internet (can’t sync directly to desktop computer)

For me, my smartphone needs to be a good cell phone first, followed by having good email connectivity with Microsoft Exchange and POP3 servers. I also need to have a smartphone that can last me one full day without charging, which I don’t think is too much to ask for. Thus, it’s a tough decision for me to pick an iPhone or a Pre for my personal needs. What I’m planning to do, is go into a holding pattern and wait to see if Palm will fix the deficiencies in the Pre OS such that it works better as a business phone. If that happens over the next few months, then I’ll probably give it a try. But until then, I’ll keep using my old Verizon Motorola Q phone as it seems to do the job (at a minimal level!).


Palm Pre is now available, and the honeymoon is already over!

June 6, 2009

palm_preThe long awaited release of the Palm Pre smartphone is finally here, with Sprint and Best Buy stores officially selling the new phones as of this morning. Some fanatics actually camped out yesterday night in front of their targeted store, but it seems that the wait lines were minimal and most people who absolutely needed to have a Pre phone today got one.

Now that the initial excitement has worn off, it seems that these same fanatics are scrutinizing their phone which they’ve prematurely placed on a pedestal. From the user postings on the various Palm Pre forums, users are already complaining about dead screen pixels, slow Internet connection speed, creaks, small keyboard, overheating while charging, low ringer volume, distorted spots on screen, inability to change the notification sound or volume, very long charge times, very slow calendar app, etc. Some have already exchanged their Pre phones for new ones, while others are complaining of the lack of applications and/or the functionality of the built-in apps.

Some diehard fans will defend their cherished jewel of a phone to the bitter end (or when the next new phone comes out), while others will rip the Pre apart with complaints. Everyone has to understand that the Palm Pre is a brand new phone with a brand new operating system. It’s going to take a few years for the Pre to improve with it’s apps and functionality. The first step, will be for Palm to release the Mojo SDK to ALL developers so we can all start creating useful apps. Personally, I’m planning to hold off getting a Palm Pre until the “early adopters” (or “tech fanatics”) shake out the phone and report back on any possible show stoppers. Also, I want to try out the SDK and emulator to see how much control and access I will have to the phone’s hardware features.


Moving my Calendars into the Cloud

June 5, 2009

calgooI like to keep my life in order, so keeping track of appointments and calendar events is important to me. Since the company I work for has standardized on using Microsoft Outlook 2007 with Microsoft Exchange Server, I’m forced to use Outlook as my scheduling tool for my work activities. I also have been using Outlook 2007 at home on my personal desktop PC for a few years for both as my main email application and for recording calendar events. The big challenge for me is to keep my personal and work calendars separate, but have them both viewable at the same time when I do my personal or work scheduling.

Since I’m using Outlook 2007 for both my home and work PC, I could “publish” both my calendars privately to the online Microsoft Office Servers and have the two Outlook apps access them as Internet Calendars. In this method, my home PC can view my work calendar but I can’t edit the entries on my work calendar. Likewise, my work PC can view my personal calendar but I can’t make changes to it. This is fine, but limits my ability to change both my personal and work calendars on the same machine.

Another option, is to sync my calendars to the “Cloud” (Internet) and open both of them as Internet Calendars on each PC system. This afternoon, I decided to try using this method by installing the freeware app called CalGoo. This utility runs in the background on a PC and will automatically sync my calendar events from Outlook to a Google Calendar via an Internet connection. An added bonus, is that I can edit or create calendar events in my Google calendar and they will be synced to my Outlook calendar as well. As such, I used CalGoo on both my home PC and work PC, and have them both sync to separate Google calendars in my Google account. I then open the Google calendar of each other system in Outlook as an Internet Calendar.

calgoo_sync

Now, my personal calendar is synced to Google calendar and my work calendar is synced to a different Google calendar. I can then view both calendars overlayed on one another in a single Google calendar screen. Likewise, I can also overlay my personal and work calendars in Outlook on both my home PC and work PC. It all seems to work fine, since my home PC and work PC are both normally always connected to the Internet.  Also, I can check, delete, and create events in either calendar whenever I want so long as I have access to a web browser and an Internet connection.

Doing all of this also positions me pretty well if and when I do switch to a Palm Pre phone. The Pre syncs with Google Calendar, so this will allow me to view and edit calendar events on either my work or personal calendars.


Palm Pre Fanatics

June 2, 2009

palm_preAs you may have read from my previous postings, I’ve been eying the soon-to-be-released Palm Pre smartphone. In preparation, I’ve been reading three different Palm-specific forums to gather information on this device. Not so surprisingly, a lot of posters to these forums are fanatical about the Palm Pre and are prepared to do some crazy things to get their hands on this smartphone on launch day (June 6th).

One guy actually had a Palm Pre image tattooed on his upper bicep so he could win a Palm Pre prize (I wonder what was tattooed on his other arm… a Wii Controller?). Other people are strategizing when and where to line up at the various Sprint and Best Buy stores the night before so they be the first to get a Pre phone on the 6th. Don’t these people have a life? Why do they have to get a damn phone on the first day it is offered? Is it really that important? In fact, one person is camped out in front of a local Sprint Store 5 days before the phone will be available. That’s insane. Maybe for a contest to win 1 millon dollars, but not to pay for a stupid cell phone!

And what if these people are camped out for 24 hours and then find out on the morning of the 6th that the store ran out of phones? Of course they will probably scream and shout and whip out their laptops and begin posting hateful messages about Sprint, Palm, etc. to Internet forums, twitter, blah, blah, blah. I also read a posting that indicated Sprint will need to physically take a customer’s Palm Pre and do some configuration before they leave the store, and some people are upset because they will miss the “unboxing experience”. Who cares?!! It’s just a stupid box! Some people are just too obsessed with this kind of stuff.

Yes, the Palm Pre is a highly anticipated cell phone which is poised to be competing with the very successful Apple iPhone. However, this is the 1st generation device for Palm with the new WebOS, so undoubtedly it will have bugs, deficiencies, issues, etc. The entire birth of the Palm Pre seems to follow that of the Google G1 Android phone, in my opinion. Here’s my prediction of life of the Palm Pre:

  1. Palm announces the development of the Palm Pre. News articles are written about it, touting it as the next iPhone killer.
  2. Over the next several months, bits of information are leaked out which get some people really excited.
  3. YouTube videos appear with demos of the Palm Pre in action (under very controlled conditions). Again, more people get excited.
  4. A few weeks before the release date fanatics are strategizing on how to get their hands on the Palm Pre when it is first released.
  5. News of shortages, etc. frustrates some people, making them even more obsessed with finding the right store to camp out the night before the 6th.
  6. Release Day! Some people get their Pre’s and are happy, while others are shafted for some reason and go home empty handed.
  7. Over the course of the next few weeks, the Sprint and Best Buy stores will get shipments of Pres and getting one will no longer be a big deal.
  8. Fanatics will begin posting how wonderful the Palm Pre is, and all the great features. They will boast about the speed of the web browser connection, etc.
  9. Then, the honeymoon will be over. Those same fanatics will begin to bitch and complain about the Palm Pre dropping calls, slow Internet connect speeds, push emails not coming in instantly, the lack of good applications (and having to pay for applications), hardware issues, quality issues, limited battery life, etc.
  10. After about 4 weeks Palm will release an OS update which they claim will fix all of these issues (and it won’t).
  11. Fanatics will try to return or exchange their Palm Pres, while others will jump back to the iPhone.
  12. And, there will be some diehard fans that will stick with their Palm Pre device through the good and bad.

This scenario is what I saw with the Google Android phone, and I see it also happening with the Palm Pre. I hope that I’m totally wrong, but history often repeats itself. So what am I going to do? Well, I plan on waiting until all of this settles down and we have a good assessment of the Palm Pre. I’m also waiting for the Mojo SDK to be released to determine what kind of applications I can create for the Pre phone. I’m crossing my fingers now and hope Palm comes out on top smelling like roses…