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June 19, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Digital Convergence Lets You Take Technology on the Road
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- Copy-Protected Audio CDs Face Legal Challenge
- Major Online Music Sites Finally Rolling Out
- AT&T Broadband's Rate Hike Hinders Expanded Broadband Usage
- Europe Ponders Media Player Probes
- Apple's New Ad Campaign Features Former Windows Users
- Win a Free Digital Video Recorder from SONICblue!
- SQL Server Magazine—Get Your Free Preview Issue
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Tablet PCs
- New Poll: Mobile Devices
- Tip: Use a Digital Camcorder to Import Analog Video
- Featured Thread: How Secure Is X10?
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Cool Down Your System
- Create and Share Internet Video
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
We at Connected Home Magazine pay a lot of attention to digital convergence because various digital and networking technologies are converging at an ever-quicker rate. Today's convergence themes are far more exciting than anything that the industry anticipated at the dawn of the PC revolution. (Readers who remember IBM's unfortunate PS/1 ads featuring a housewife accessing recipes from her kitchen-based PC know what I'm talking about.) And nothing is more exciting today than the ability to take technology with you.
Technology users have a relatively newfound ability to be online in a variety of locations, usually wirelessly, and to access digital photos, movies, and music in the car, on an airplane, or over the Internet from anywhere in the world. We might eventually see the ability to decouple experiences from specific locations as technology's greatest gift. Here's how the convergence happened, and what you can do to take advantage of this gift.
In the past, you had to access any information you stored on a computer from the same computer, unless you could print out the information (although even then, the information was in static, read-only form). Online connectivity, even at relatively slow modem speeds, and early removable media formats such as the floppy disk enabled information transfer between computer systems, leading to Sun Microsystems' prescient slogan, "The Network is the Computer." Without outside connectivity, a PC is simply an island of functionality—useful, but not truly compelling to most people.
Later, multimedia-capable storage formats, such as CD-ROM, and the Internet brought about a much-needed change in the focus of most PCs. Before these two innovations took off, most people viewed PCs as office-bound workhorses, good for editing documents, balancing checkbooks, and maybe playing games. But the public eventually saw PCs as the ultimate in versatility, and today's machines bear little resemblance to their limited predecessors. By the early 2000s, PCs had evolved into connected, multimedia powerhouses with blazingly fast processors, seemingly endless supplies of RAM and hard disk space, and capabilities that we could only have dreamed of when we were pecking away at Commodore 64s and Apple IIs in the early 1980s. Most important, many PCs are often hooked up to the Internet, and thus the rest of the planet, by way of an always-on, high-speed connection.
The next step was mobility, a feature that has historically involved numerous trade-offs. But with a modern laptop computer, you can move around the house and access a high-speed connection wirelessly, using a system that's every bit as fast as all but the most advanced desktop computer. Wireless systems are more expensive than desktop PCs but offer much more functionality in form factors that achieve lengthy battery life, brilliant built-in displays, and every connectivity option imaginable. More locations such as airports and coffee shops are offering cheap wireless access, so by taking advantage of that access or by using a standard dial-up account, you can be online almost anywhere in the United States.
Laptops enable travelers to take all their data, including music files and photos, on the road. I travel fairly often and take along a system that lets me play DVD movies, write articles, manage my contacts, or plan my schedule. This laptop contains every digital photo I've ever taken and every music file I've ever copied from an audio CD. I can use the system to rip or create audio CDs, edit digital video, or burn DVD movies when it's connected to a FireWire-based DVD-RW drive at home. In many ways, the system makes my entire life available almost instantly whenever I travel.
For even quicker access to scheduling and contact information, I use a Pocket PC device, although many Palm OS-based solutions would suffice as well. Pocket PCs make excellent electronic-book readers too, and I've read several classics recently in this format, including "Dracula," "The Time Machine," and a collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories. Add an expansion memory card, such as the 256MB CompactFlash (CF) card I use, and the Pocket PC is an excellent audio music player as well. And future Pocket PCs will evolve into SmartPhone devices, combining the functionality of PDAs and cell phones.
If you're a music enthusiast, a dedicated digital audio player lets you take your entire music collection on the road in an extremely portable format. I use an Apple iPod for portable music, and although its 5GB of storage space isn't enough to hold all my music, it's big enough to store almost 1000 songs—not bad for a stylish package no larger than a deck of playing cards. And you can use iPod and other hard disk-based media players in the car by using an inexpensive cassette tape- or FM radio-based adapter. My family takes several long car trips a year, and I wouldn't leave home without the iPod.
If you decide to make your next PC a laptop, I have a final bit of advice for you. Take it on vacation. Not so you can work; instead, use the laptop to acquire images from your digital camera. Your laptop can let you share photos and memories over the Internet while you're still on the road. You can also use a laptop to acquire video from your digital camcorder and post short clips to the Web while you're gone, letting friends and family know what they're missing. You can access and update your personal Web site and detail how your trip is going. If you're not interested in carting a laptop around on vacation, companies such as Hewlett-Packard (HP) make portable photo printers that let you print 4" x 6" photographs directly from your digital camera. Then, you can use an inexpensive postcard maker kit, available at photo stores, to make personalized postcards to send friends and relatives. Store-bought postcards seem tacky by comparison.
The move to digital media won't limit your family to crowding around the PC to view photos and movies or listen to music. Instead, the technology will expand the ways in which you can experience and share these memories. So take technology on the road and have some fun with it. You don't need to sit at a desk in an office to take advantage of the digital convergence.
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2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's news stories, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
Those ridiculous copy-protected audio CDs have predictably run into some legal trouble, thanks to a class-action lawsuit aimed at the five major record companies supporting the controversial technology. Lawyers representing California consumers are suing Universal Music Group, BMG Entertainment, EMI Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Brothers Music for preventing consumers from practicing their fair-use music copying rights. Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), called the lawsuit "frivolous," stating that "music creators have the right to protect their property from theft, just like owners of any other property." We agree, Cary, but music "creators" aren't the ones using the technology; the greedy recording companies are. And guess what, Cary? The recording companies are going to lose. Viva la revolution!
Two of the largest recording companies have set prices for the online music services that they're rolling out. Universal Music Group will price individual songs at 99 cents each, while an entire CD's worth of digital music will cost $9.99. Sony Music Entertainment will charge between $1.49 and $1.99 per song. Each service will let users copy downloaded music onto custom audio-mix CDs but won't let buyers share music in other ways. Interestingly, Universal and Sony are working together on a separate online music service called pressplay, but these new online music plans are separate from pressplay and will use technologies from existing digital audio firms. Universal is working with Liquid Audio, and Sony will use technology from RioPort. We're interested to see major recording companies finally come around to online digital distribution, and Universal is arguably using the correct price point. Will these efforts succeed? Only time will tell.
President George W. Bush said last week that federal regulators would soon take steps to dramatically expand the use of broadband Internet access. But the president should have told AT&T Broadband about this plan because the company recently raised its already-too-expensive monthly rate for cable modem owners by $7. What's really pathetic about this price increase is that it comes just days after AT&T Broadband revealed the results of a study in which it found that few people were interested in paying the high price of broadband. As a result, the company said that it was considering a lower-performing version of the service that would cost $5 to $10 less per month. What this news tells us, of course, is that broadband is as screwed up as it ever was. Come on, AT&T Broadband, stop punishing the early adopters and lower your prices: Volume is the key to success.
A group of European privacy regulators is investigating Microsoft Windows Media Player (WMP), RealNetworks' RealONE player, and other software-based media players for features that invade users' privacy. According to the regulators, these applications often employ "invisible and not legitimate" features that are secretly installed on users' PCs to "send personal information back to" the companies that make the products. This information, the regulators say, includes the music titles that users listen to, which is then aggregated by the companies and analyzed for business reasons. Microsoft says the probe is "testing the boundaries" of the European Union's (EU's) jurisdiction; RealNetworks maintains that the information it gathers is completely anonymous. The companies' claims don't matter, however, because the EU has already received numerous complaints about these applications from consumers. And those consumer complaints, the EU says, are all the EU needs to investigate the companies. Think settlement.
Apple Computer's "Think Different" ad campaign might have been grammatically challenged, but at least it featured people we wanted to emulate, like Dr. Martin Luther King or Albert Einstein. But with its latest ad campaign, Apple features real people who recently switched from Windows to the Macintosh. Really annoying people. Really unbelievable people. Really boring people. To paraphrase "The Simpsons'" Comic Book Guy: Worst. Ad campaign. Ever.
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Are you excited about Tablet PCs?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 174 votes:
- 19% Yes, I plan to buy one as soon as I can.
- 40% Yes, but I won't buy one anytime soon.
- 41% No, they don't thrill me at all.
The next Quick Poll question is, "Which mobile device do you find most useful?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) a laptop computer, b) a PDA, c) a cell phone, d) a digital audio player, or e) I don't use mobile devices.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
If you've made the move to digital video but have analog video such as VHS or 8mm videotape that you want to copy to the computer, you can use your digital camcorder to obtain the legacy video. Depending on the digital camcorder model you own, you can use the camcorder as a "pass-through" for an analog video source, or you can record analog video onto digital tape, then use the camcorder's FireWire connection to acquire the video in the usual manner. The key is your camcorder's input port, which lets you connect to other video sources by using standard RCA and S-video jacks. You can also use this capability to copy video in the other direction; for example, you might want to copy digital video out to VHS tape so that family and friends who haven't made the leap to digital video can enjoy your home movies.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
A user says X10 is a great way to control your house's lights, appliances, and central heating, but he questions its usefulness as a security control. He says that anyone with a laptop or portable device that has an X10 interface can be a potential security threat; he claims that an intruder can create a light bulb adapter, remove an outside light at your home, plug in the device, and toggle a few ports to disable your security system. The user wonders where the security is in an X10 system. To see responses or to respond, 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])
Sky Hawk USA announced the Sky Hawk aluminum PC case, an aluminum alloy case that conducts heat better than conventional metal cases. Aluminum acts as a heat sink and keeps the computer's internal temperature 15 to 30 degrees lower than a traditional steel chassis can. The Sky Hawk's anodized aluminum reduces static electricity and is less likely to corrode at attachment points. For more information, contact Sky Hawk USA on the Web.
Internet Video Mag is an online beginner's guide to creating Internet movies. This periodical provides a wide range of features for consumers and end users who want to use the Internet to share videos without spending a lot of money. Learn how to share family videos and even promote your business. Internet Video Mag also provides information about a wide range of Web-oriented software and hardware, reviews of books and instructional CD-ROMs, and articles about Web sites that provide free hosting services for streaming video movies. For more information, contact Internet Video Mag on the Web.
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