Can Linux Replace Microsoft Windows For Me?

July 4, 2009

linuxLast week, my wife and I had some time to kill before the post office opened so we decided to hang out at the nearby library for a bit. While there, I pursued the various magazine back issues and came across Linux Format, a UK-based publication devoted to Linux information and topics. After reading through two of them, it perked my interest in using Linux on my aged Dell D610 laptop (currently running Windows 7 Beta). In addition, my wife’s recent desire to switch to an Apple MacBook Pro (which is running a derivative of Unix) also got me thinking of possibly using an alternative to the Microsoft Windows OS. Could I switch off of Windows to something else? Would I have everything that I needed to continue working effectively?

Since the various available distributions of Linux are free for download, I decided to take some time and explore two of them, specifically Fedora and OpenSuse. Both of these flavors of Linux were rated highly in the Linux Format magazine, so I thought they would be a good bet as an alternative.

Luckily for both of these distributions, they have a “Live CD” version which allows you to boot up the OS from a CD (or DVD) and test out their flavor of Linux without actually installing the OS on your disk drive. I decided to go this route, since it was the most noninvasive method of checking out the Linux OS without altering my existing Windows OS installation.

Note, that Linux has different GUI environments that you can choose from, which will define the user interface (i.e., windows look-n-feel, menus, etc). I decided to test out the KDE interface for Fedora, and the GNOME interface for Fedora and OpenSuse.

So to start, I simply inserted one of the Live CDs in my CD/DVD-ROM drive and rebooted my system. It took a while for Linux to boot up (since it was reading everything from the CD-ROM drive), but after a few minutes I was up and running with Linux! Read the rest of this entry »


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.


Finding Free WiFi Access While Out of Town

April 25, 2009

free_wifiOn a recent business trip I had a few hours to kill before flying out, so I decided to spend that time catching up with emails. Since I was in Phoenix, I could have used the airport’s free WiFi system, however, I didn’t want to hang out at the airport any longer than necessary. So, I decided to track down a hotel lobby that I could comfortably camp out and do my email activities. As it turned out, I discovered that most of the Hilton hotels don’t have free WiFi Access for the lobby guests (it’s a paid service). However, some of the less expensive hotels do offer free WiFi lobby access. The Days Inn, Fairfield Inn, Hampton Inn, and the Marriott Courtyard are a few hotels that did offer such free WiFi services. I ended up at the Courtyard by the airport and set up in a nice spot on a couch in front of a wide screen TV (with CNN). I also had my laptop and cell phone plugged into a convenient outlet mounted on the backside of the couch, so I was in heaven!

I’ll definitely add this particular hotel to my growing list of “Business Traveler Friendly” venues where I can get a respite from all the business meetings and telecons.


LogMeIn vs. Microsoft Mesh for Remote Computer Access

April 25, 2009

boxingI was out of town on a business trip this week, and I wanted to remotely log into my home desktop PC to check my emails and see what videos were recorded by Vista Media Center for conversion to my Microsoft Zune media device. I actually had two different options for remotely logging into my home system, (1) Microsoft Live Mesh and (2) LogMeIn.

I first tried using Microsoft Live Mesh, since my work laptop was already connected to the Microsoft Mesh system. I was able to successfully connect to my home PC and work on it, but the response was pretty slow and the graphics screen updates were crummy. So, I logged off and used the LogeMeIn web-based solution and found much better performance. LogMeIn was definitely snappier than Microsoft Mesh, and I was actually very productive using it.

So, I have to report that LogMeIn was a clear winner for remote login effectiveness, and I’ll certainly be sure to use it again when I’m in a similar situation. If only LogMeIn would work with my Windows Mobile Moto-Q phone for accessing my home PC…. 😉


DriveHQ – Online File Storage

March 9, 2009

drivehq_0As you may have read in some previous postings, I’ve examined and reviewed several of the available online file storage offerings. Currently, there’s several different systems that will auto sync files or do auto backups, or allow you to upload files for online storage. For my needs, I want a method for storing files off my Desktop PC for safe keeping (in case my hard drive blows up, or my house burns down). So, I don’t need the file syncing features. Most of the online file storage solutions that I’ve come across don’t allow you to directly upload folders containing files or other subfolders. You have to select and upload individual files, or a group of files. For me, that would be very time consuming and not acceptable. I wanted a system that would allow me to select a folder and have it and its contents uploaded to an online storage system.

Luckily, I came across one solution called DriveHQ (offered by Drive Headquarters) that does what I need. It has an easy-to-use interface that allows me to simply drag-n-drop my folder into my “DriveHQ” drive on my PC, and begin the uploading process. It will actually upload the files in the background so I can continue working on other things and leave it unattended. Great!

DriveHQ currently offers 1 GB of free storage, which works fine for me since I just want to upload client web page files for safe storage. If you want to backup large files (such as video files, pictures, etc.) you’ll probably fill up your 1 GB allotment very quickly. Then, you’ll be looking at paying for more storage space as explained on DriveHQ’s web site.

In contrast, SkyDrive (by Microsoft) offers you 25 GB of free online storage, however, you can’t upload folders. You have to upload individual files (or a group of files) which is a time consuming process. So, I’ll probably stick with DriveHQ for a while and see how easy and effective it is, and will decide whether to upgrade for more storage space when the time comes.