Connected Home EXPRESS
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August 7, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Next-Generation OSs Make Better Connections
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Another Week, Another Media Format
- Recordable DVD To Go
- Sonic Finds a New Home
- See You at www.payforcontent.com
- Hard Disk Space Grows
- The Backup and Recovery Solutions You've Been Searching For!
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Movies on a Handheld Device
- New Poll: Buying a Mac
- Tip: Take Your Web Browser Back
- Featured Thread: Using ICS to Share a DSL Connection
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Instantly Transfer Files
- CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combination Drive
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
Microsoft and Apple Computer will both release OS updates this month that will have major repercussions for the connected home. Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), due in late August, will form the basis for Microsoft's next-generation OSs, including Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows XP Media Center Edition (code-named Freestyle). Apple, meanwhile, just completed development of Mac OS X 10.2 (code-named Jaguar). I recently spoke with both companies about these releases.
XP SP1 is a long-awaited release for Windows watchers. Incorporating numerous security fixes that resulted from an early 2002 Trustworthy Computing code review, SP1 promises to be Microsoft's most secure OS ever. The release also includes a new version of Windows Messenger for Instant Messaging (IM) and file sharing, many application and device-compatibility updates, USB 2.0 support, and a new UI component called Set Program Access and Defaults that lets users and PC makers hide XP middleware components such as Internet Explorer (IE) and Outlook Express and replace them with third-party alternatives. XP SP1 will be a free download for existing XP users.
But the most interesting thing about SP1 is that it will form the basis for two Microsoft OSs that are coming out this fall—XP Tablet PC Edition, which will ship only with Tablet PC devices, and XP Media Center Edition, which will ship only with a new type of PC called a Media Center PC.
Tablet PCs will come in two basic form factors: a convertible laptop style (which I prefer) and a true tablet device that requires a docking station to use a keyboard and mouse. The convertible laptops work like typical laptops but have hinges that let you swivel the screen around and cover the keyboard, creating a tablet (see References below for the link to my Tablet PC photo gallery). You can operate the tablet with a keyboard and mouse, or you can use a special stylus and the screen's active digitizer to write directly on the screen, just as you would on a pad of paper. The effect is stunning: The digital ink is smooth and pressure sensitive: Pushing down harder on the stylus creates stronger strokes.
XP Tablet PC Edition performs handwriting recognition, but Microsoft thinks that most people will use digital ink as the data format. After testing the device recently, I'm not so sure. But the tablet form factor does enable new, casual computing experiences that are difficult with regular wireless laptops. And in some situations, writing on a tablet would be more convenient than typing. For more information, check out my XP Tablet PC Edition review (see References below).
I had high hopes for XP Media Center Edition, but I'm disappointed to discover that Microsoft is limiting this wonderful software's potential by bundling it only with special Media Center PCs, the first of which will ship this fall. And only Hewlett-Packard (HP) is selling a Media Center PC model this year, further limiting the device's potential—which is enormous: XP Media Center Edition includes a new Media Center application with gorgeous but simple links to TV, digital music, digital photos, digital videos, DVDs, and other digital-media-related content. Microsoft designed the UI to look good on a TV, and you can manipulate it with a special remote control, which Media Center PCs include.
Behind the scenes, Media Center PCs include a powerful video card, a TV interface for the software's digital video recorder (DVR) functionality, and a USB-based infrared (IR) interface for the remote control device. Microsoft thinks that the first version will sell primarily to college students, apartment dwellers, and other people who have limited space. The company also believes that most people will use a standard computer monitor for output instead of a TV. I think both these assumptions are misguided, but I'll have more to say about this topic next month when Microsoft lets me publish a review. In the meantime, I'm testing a prototype Media Center PC, and you can check out my XP Media Center Edition preview (see References below).
Mac OS X 10.2
On the Macintosh side of the fence, Apple recently completed development of its next major release, Mac OS X 10.2. Contrary to the version number, Jaguar is a fairly major release that includes many welcome improvements over the current version, OS X 10.1.x.
Jaguar includes substantially updated Mail.app and Address Book applications and a new iChat IM application that integrates with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). The product also ships with Apple's recently released QuickTime 6 media player, which supports MPEG-4 as its native format. But I think that Jaguar's Windows-compatibility features are the OS's most exciting; they fix all the problems I had with OS X 10.1 last fall. Now Jaguar machines will appear on Windows workgroups, making interoperability easier. And you can browse Windows workgroups from a Jaguar box, just as you can from Windows. And all those bizarre Mac resource files that Mac OS X used to leave behind are now hidden by default; with OS X 10.1, I once thought I had a virus because of all the weird files I found on my Windows machine after I accessed it from the Mac.
One gotcha with Jaguar, unfortunately, is its price. Unlike previous updates, which were free, Jaguar will cost $130 unless you purchase OS X 10.1.x or a new Mac sometime this month, in which case you qualify for a $20 upgrade. Coupled with Apple's recent decision to drop its free iTools services in lieu of $100-per-year .Mac services, some of Apple's customers are feeling a little pinched (see References below for a link to "Did Apple Out-.NET Microsoft with .Mac?"). But Jaguar has so much going for it that I suspect many OS X users will upgrade. I'll have more information about Jaguar in the coming weeks.
Regardless of which platform you prefer, you'll soon have to make some upgrade choices. I strongly recommend that all XP users upgrade to the free SP1 release. Consider XP Tablet PC Edition or XP Media Center Edition if you plan to make a new PC purchase and feel that one of the devices meets your needs.
On the Mac side, it's a little tough to recommend such an expensive upgrade, but the reality is that Jaguar is a monumental upgrade. I just wish Apple could have rewarded OS X early adopters with a more compelling price. Mac OS 9.x users who are waffling about OS X, take note: Jaguar is the release you've been waiting for. Check out Apple's Web site for more information (see References below).
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
Last week, Fuji Photo Film and Olympus Optical announced yet another new memory-card format—the xD-Picture Card, which is intended for digital cameras and other small electronic devices. The format is similar to the SmartMedia memory format, which the companies hope the xD-Picture Card format will replace. But the xD-Picture Card doesn't contain a controller chip, which reduces its physical size. The format is six times faster than SmartMedia, which is a plus. xD-Picture Card is available in 16MB, 32MB, 64MB, and 128MB sizes and will arrive in 256MB, 512MB, and up to 8GB sizes in the future. There's just one problem: We don't need another media format. Aren't CompactFlash (CF), MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital (SD), Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Duo enough? Can you imagine how slowly VCRs would have taken off if they had six competing formats instead of just VHS and Beta?
Later this year, Pioneer Electronics will start shipping a recordable-DVD drive for laptops, the company says, with companies such as Sony and Apple Computer expected to incorporate the device into new laptops. The drive will write DVD-Rs at 4X speed and DVD-RWs at 2X speed and will record CD-Rs at 16X speed and CD-RWs at 10X speed. Pioneer hasn't announced pricing, but the drive is expected to be an expensive option. Pioneer has backed the DVD Forum's DVD-R standards, which compete against the DVD+RW standard. As mentioned often in Connected Home EXPRESS, the PC industry has yet to decide on one recordable-DVD standard and, until it does, recordable-DVD sales aren't expected to reach high volumes.
Sega's flagship Sonic game character has found a new home on one-time competitor Nintendo's GameCube. Before leaving the console market last year, Sega was synonymous with Sonic the Hedgehog, a plucky little blue rodent with fast feet and a way with the ladies. Now, however, Sega's "Sonic Adventure 2 Battle" is a top seller for the GameCube, and Sega plans to release a special Sonic collection for the device later this year. The collection will include seven old games that Sega ported to the Nintendo system. Look for the collection—which includes "Sonic the Hedgehog" (1, 2, and 3), "Sonic & Knuckles," "Sonic 3D Blast," "Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball," and "Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine"—soon.
Remember the good old days when everything on the Internet was free? It seems that companies can't make money when they give away all their content for free, a fact several ex-Linux companies could probably explain. But in recent days, consumers have shown more willingness to pay for online content, although we've seen few success stories. ("The Wall Street Journal Online" has about 650,000 subscribers, however.) Customers are accustomed to getting their news and information for free, but with the decline in ad sales, business models are expected to change soon. Last week, one CEO predicted that within 2 years, almost all news content on the Internet will require a subscription fee. It's never too early to start: We're now accepting beer-money donations from readers.
If you're paying for online content, you might as well download it, and for that you'll need a nice big hard disk. Fortunately, Western Digital just released a new 200GB disk code-named Drivezilla that's sure to put the pressure on competing disk makers. But before you rush out to buy the disk, consider the drawbacks. It has a whopping price tag of $400 and requires a special PCI card because most computers don't natively support disks bigger than 137GB. But the dream of 1TB of storage is coming closer to reality. Can you feel it? We can feel it.
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Are you interested in watching movies on a handheld device?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 127 votes:
- 9% Yes, I can't wait!
- 25% Yes, but I won't be an early buyer
- 65% No, I prefer the big screen
The next Quick Poll question is, "When will you buy a Mac OS X machine?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) I already have one, and I'll upgrade to 10.2 as soon as I can, b) I'll buy one when OS X 10.2 is available, c) I'll stick with my old Mac, or d) You'll never catch me with a Mac!
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
As online advertisers become increasingly desperate, several technically sophisticated but highly irritating ads—such as pop-up ads, pop-under ads, and various scrolling animations—have been making the rounds. If you've had it with such distractions, I have some good news. You can make them go away. And although you'll spend a bit of cash for the best solutions, some freebie alternatives are also available.
Mozilla, the recently released open-source Web browser, will give you the best free (and ad-free) Web experience. Mozilla includes pop-up ad blocking right in the product, and a free BannerBlind add-on kills Web ads of all kinds, including the standard banner ads you see everywhere.
Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users have options too. I recommend and use GuardWall.com's Guard-IE, a $30 lifesaver that includes pop-up ad blocking and an interface that lets you receive the pop-up windows you want to receive, cookie and Web-bug protection, and more; a 20-day trial is available. For a free ad killer, check out AdShield, which can suppress ad-image downloads and stop ad-based browser windows from opening.
I'm still looking for good Macintosh-based tools. If you have any suggestions—either for the Mac or the PC—please let me know!
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
Arthur wants to know how to configure Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) so that he can share his Windows XP Pentium III machine's DSL connection with his Windows 98 Pentium II machine. The two computers share a crossover LAN connection. If you can offer Arthur any advice, visit the following URL:
Do you have a question about connecting the technology in your home? Do you have a tip for others? The Connected Home Online Forum is the right place to ask for help or share what you know.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
Belkin Components announced the USB 8-in-1 Media Reader & Writer and the USB Media Reader & Writer for Memory Stick. The USB 8-in-1 Media Reader & Writer, which draws power through the computer's USB port and requires no additional power supply, lets you transfer, edit, and store files at transfer speeds as fast as 12Mbps. The USB Media Reader & Writer for Memory Stick lets you drag files, images, and music to your computer from your digital camera, PDA, handheld device, or MP3 player. The USB 8-in-1 Media Reader & Writer costs $44.95, and the USB Media Reader & Writer for Memory Stick costs $24.99. For more information about these devices, contact Belkin Components at 800-223-5546 or on the Web.
Samsung Electronics announced the SM-332 CD-RW and DVD-ROM combination drive. The SM-332 is a high-speed multifunction drive that features 12X DVD-ROM reading, 40X CD-ROM reading, 32X CD-ROM recording, and 10X CD-ROM rewriting functionality. The device supports recording and editing of high-capacity photo, video, and music data, and is compatible with existing CD and DVD media formats. The SM-332 runs on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows NT, and Windows 9x. Suggested retail price is $149. For more information about the SM-332, contact Samsung Electronics at 800-726-7864 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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