Connected Home EXPRESS
Brought to you by Connected Home Magazine Online, the unique resource to help you tackle home networking, home automation, and much more.
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(below GETTING CONNECTED)
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September 18, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- More About the Switching Dilemma
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Amtrak Online
- RIAA and Others Ask Court to Rule That File-Sharing Services Are Illegal
- PDAs: Not So Hot Anymore
- Video to Go
- Sony to Offer Multistandard DVD Recorder
- Real-World Tips and Solutions Here for You
- New! News, Tips, and More to Keep Your Network Humming
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Home Computer Configuration
- New Poll: Home Linux Machine
- Tip: Sharing Calendars on the Web
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Make Realtime Sound Recordings
- Wireless-Ready Router for Home Networking
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
In last week's edition of Connected Home EXPRESS, I discussed Apple Computer's "Switch" ad campaign and the problems I believe Apple faces persuading people to drop their Windows systems and move to Mac OS X (see the URL below). Today I follow up with some reader feedback and a look at another interesting OS choice—Linux.
Most of the readers who responded to last week's newsletter agreed that Mac OS X is nice but not compelling enough to leave years of acquired skills and efficiencies, data, and applications behind. But I find it interesting that so many people have considered switching at all: Although only a handful of readers said they've bitten the bullet and switched, many people told me that they've been swayed at one time or another by Apple's gorgeous hardware and elegant software designs. Some readers described voyeuristic trips to CompUSA or the local Apple Store, at which they spent time looking at the Apple hardware or getting to know Mac OS X. But few people walked away with an Apple product.
A recent Connected Home EXPRESS reader survey mirrors their comments. According to the survey, a scant 4 percent of readers use the Macintosh (the survey doesn't break down earlier Mac OS versions versus Mac OS X). And if we can believe International Data Corporation (IDC), only 2.5 percent of the worldwide computing population owns or uses a Mac. Apple says it has 22 million active Mac users worldwide, and about 3 million of them are using Mac OS X. But that 22 million figure has remained relatively steady for years, making me wonder whether it's accurate. One undeniable truth emerges: Apple doesn't own an appreciable part of the market, meaning that third-party support is harder to come by than it is in the Windows world.
Even existing Mac users are reticent about upgrading. Beyond learning the new UI, upgrading to Mac OS X can incur additional costs. Imagine having to purchase new Mac OS X-specific versions of expensive products such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Macromedia FreeHand, and Adobe Premiere, each of which costs several hundred dollars. Although Mac OS X supports a Classic environment for running older Mac applications, it's often unacceptably slow for graphics work. This reality will hit Apple's core market of design professionals right where it hurts—in the pocketbook.
For some users, none of these facts matter. As I've noted, Apple's new hardware is world-class, and the company makes wonderful software products in several categories, especially for so-called digital hubs. For other users, the safety and security of Windows just can't be beat. To each his own.
One exciting development that might have wider ramifications in the Windows world, however, is the open-source software sensation Linux. Named after its creator, Linus Torvalds, Linux is a UNIX clone that runs on the same PC hardware as Windows, as well as on other hardware platforms. In the early days, Linux offered only a command-line environment that was similar to DOS, but the emergence of free graphical interfaces based on an X Windows clone called X-Free jump-started the popularity of this OS. Today, two major graphical environments—GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME) and K Desktop Environment (KDE)—compete for the affection of Linux desktop users.
But Linux is rough around the edges and not to be undertaken lightly. As open-source advocates and technology enthusiasts will tell you, Linux is often difficult to install, almost impossible to get working with certain hardware devices, and highly frustrating to use, even in the best of conditions. I first installed Linux in October 1994—an eon ago in computing time—and have since maintained at least one Linux machine, which I regularly refresh with the latest and greatest Linux version. Although the OS has improved in leaps and bounds unparalleled in this industry's short history, Linux still has a long way to go in areas such as application support and UI consistency. But recent Linux distributions, such as the upcoming Red Hat Linux 8 release (now in beta), points the way to a more refined Linux that even mere mortals might consider.
I recently tested the third beta release of Red Hat Linux 8 (code-named Null) on a laptop computer, which is often the most demanding (and unsuccessful) type of Linux installation. But Red Hat Linux 8 installed flawlessly and recognized virtually every hardware device on the system (except for the wireless networking card, which I anticipated). The OS sports a modern Windows XP-like UI that's astonishingly friendly and beautiful. If anything, Red Hat has gone a bit too far over the ease-of-use edge: For example, the Mozilla icon is labeled "Web browser: Browse the Internet," abstracting the underlying application. I suspect the techy Linux crowd won't be amused at such UI niceties.
So how far has Linux come, you ask? When I popped in an audio CD, the GNOME CD player started up automatically and loaded the CD's artist, title, and song title information from the Internet. (Just the fact that the system's sound card worked at all is amazing, as long-time Linux users will agree.) My digital camera worked, letting me download and display pictures. I connected the bundled Ximian Evolution email client (essentially a well-done Microsoft Outlook clone) to my IMAP mail server, and it worked. My scanner worked. Networking worked. Almost everything worked without me having to do any research and tweaking, a hallmark of most of my previous Linux installations.
Could Linux be going mainstream? Not exactly, but it's getting there. Although the system fonts used in the desktop and logon screen are gorgeous, they don't carry over to end-user applications such as Mozilla, Ximian Evolution, and the bundled OpenOffice.org office productivity suite, where you need them the most. Instead, fonts in these applications are small, jagged, and hard to read. I'm sure you can fix this problem—in fact, I've done so in the past—but fonts need to work out of the box. Such a glaring error isn't even conceivable in Windows or the Mac OS.
So I'm not ready to give the green light to flawless Linux installations just yet. Although the Red Hat Linux 8 beta installation worked fine for me, I installed it only on one system, and I've had enough bad luck with previous Linux versions to know that I should test it on multiple systems. I'll test the OS on a few other systems before I get giddy about this release.
In the end, my advice about Linux is to proceed with caution. Linux is still at the stage where only true technophiles and computer hobbyists—preferably people with extra systems—need apply. (Connected Home EXPRESS readers seem to fall into that category: 28 percent of respondents to the reader survey mentioned above claim to use Linux.) From a switching standpoint, the real beauty of Linux is that it runs on the hardware you already own, and—with some help—you can make it work with your Windows data and, increasingly, even with certain Windows applications (although the latter feature is still a bit of a hack). Clearly, Linux has a bright future, and every day that goes by brings us closer to a time where typical users can step up to the plate and give Linux a shot.
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2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
Amtrak might not be able to keep its trains on the tracks all the time, but the company hopes to keep its passengers online soon with Internet access in its trains. Riders on Amtrak's Keystone line—which stops in New York, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—will be able to watch movies and television shows, check their email, or shop online by using interactive touch screens available in the cafe car. The service, called NRoute (from NRoute Communications), will use a newly built high-speed wireless network. Cash-strapped Amtrak hopes ad revenue from the service will help keep it in business. Hey, it worked for many dot-com companies, why not?
Our friends at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are back this week, along with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), to fight Internet file-sharing services. The organizations have asked a US District Court to rule that file-swapping services are illegal. The request comes before a scheduled trial against KaZaA, Morpheus, and Grokster and is based on the groups' belief that the evidence against the services is already "abundantly clear." The court's decision will have wide ramifications for free speech online, not to mention the future of the music industry.
According to market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), PDA shipments were down 9.3 percent in the second quarter this year compared with the same period last year. The industry shipped 2.6 million units in the second quarter. A weakened economy was responsible for the decrease, according to IDC. We think it also has to do with the relative lack of innovation in the market and the fact that most people who want PDAs already own them. The report noted that Palm still leads the market with 32.2 percent. Hewlett-Packard (HP), which includes Compaq, came in a distant second with 16.5 percent. Rounding out the top five was Sony with 10 percent, Handspring with 6.5 percent, and China-based manufacturer Hi-Tech Wealth Electronic Product with 4.6 percent. No, we've never heard of that company, either. But it has twice the market share that Apple Computer owns in the PC market, and we've all heard of Apple. Hmm ...
At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Conference last week, Intel and consumer electronics company SONICblue showed off a prototype for a ReplayTV-based Portable Video Player (PVP). Expected to go on sale next year, the device will be powered by an Intel XScale Processor and include a 4" screen. The PVP will also include at least 40GB of hard disk storage. Users will be able to download content to the device from their ReplayTV Personal Video Recorders (PVR) and PCs, Intel says. Intel and SONICblue expect the device to cost less than $1000. We can't wait to go out to the park on a nice day and watch some prerecorded TV. Sounds great, doesn't it? Oh wait ...
Sony, a company well known for developing standards that often conflict with existing industry standards, is attempting to bridge the divide in the DVD-recorder standards wars. Sony has gone back and forth in the past with its DVD recorders, supporting both the DVD-R/W and DVD+RW formats, depending on the market it was targeting. But the company has now announced plans to produce a DVD recorder that will support both formats in the same device, letting customers choose for themselves which media format to use. Sony hopes the new device will attract customers who've been reluctant to buy DVD recorders out of fear that the product they select might lose the war and become obsolete. Sony is expected to ship the product later this year. Bravo, we say.
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Do you have Windows machines, Macs, UNIX-based machines, or a combination in your home?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 244 votes:
- 70% Only Windows machines
- 0% Only Macs
- 6% Windows and Mac machines
- 15% Windows, Macs, and UNIX-based machines
- 9x% Other
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you have a Linux machine running in your home?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes or b) No.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
A recent spate of standards-compliant electronic calendars is making it easier than ever for people to make, maintain, and share their schedules. Depending on which platform you use, you might take a look at the following products:
- iCal (Mac OS X): Currently available in a feature-light 1.0 version, iCal is a beautiful personal calendar application that lets you track appointments and to-do items in a colorful, Aqua-esque environment. You can publish calendars to the Web and subscribe to other calendars as well, including a cool set of Apple Computer-supplied calendars that include such things as holidays, movie release dates, and sports schedules. iCal is free but requires Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar; Apple will surely improve it significantly in the coming months (currently, you can't "snooze" reminders the way you can in Microsoft Outlook, for example).
- Mozilla Calendar (Windows and Linux, soon on Mac OS X too): One of the coolest things about the open-source Mozilla Web browser suite is that it's extensible, and people are working on add-ons that build on the Mozilla platform. One of the most useful, Mozilla Calendar, will be rolled into the wider Mozilla suite at a later date, but it's available today in beta form and works well (it's free and always will be). Mozilla Calendar, like iCal, supports Web calendaring standards, so you can also use this product to publish and subscribe to Web calendars. And that means that Mozilla Calendar is interoperable with iCal (and you can use the library of calendars that Apple supplies for iCal). The Mozilla Calendar folks also supply a set of holiday files for various nationalities.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
NowSmart Studio released Audio Record Wizard 2.7, a realtime Windows sound recorder and playback program. Audio Record Wizard works directly with your sound card to create CD-quality recordings from a microphone, stereo equipment, streamed audio, and software such as Windows Media Player (WMP), Nullsoft's Winamp, and RealNetworks' RealPlayer. You can select 11KHz, 22KHz, or 44KHz sampling rates and create 16-bit stereo or mono recordings. You can set the bit rate from 32kbps to 320kbps. The program supports variable bit rate (VBR) encoding of MP3 files. New to version 2.7 is the Voice Active System, which intelligently detects silence and suspends recording. Audio Record Wizard 2.7 costs $24.95. For more information, contact NowSmart Studio at [email protected] or on the Web.
Actiontec Electronics announced the Actiontec Dual Mode Wireless-Ready Cable/DSL Router, a small office/home office (SOHO) networking solution that lets you share Internet access through a USB modem. The product works with the Actiontec USB Home DSL Modem and Ethernet cable or DSL modems from any manufacturer. You can use the router to network two desktop or laptop computers over a wired connection and a third through the unit's USB LAN port. With the addition of an 802.11b-compliant PC Card, you can wirelessly network as many as 32 additional computers. Networked computers can share files, printers, and other peripherals, as well as multiplayer games and one Internet connection, with wired surfing speeds as fast as 100Mbps and wireless access as fast as 11Mbps. The Actiontec Dual Mode Wireless-Ready Cable/DSL Router costs $99.99. For more information, contact Actiontec at 408-752-7700 or on the Web.
7. CONTACT US
Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:
(please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)
- TECHNICAL QUESTIONS — [email protected]
- PRODUCT NEWS — [email protected]
- QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS SUBSCRIPTION?
Customer Support — [email protected]
- WANT TO SPONSOR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS?
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