Connected Home EXPRESS, May 28, 2003

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Windows & .NET Magazine


1. Getting Connected
- Sync It, Sync It Good, Part 2

2. News and Views
- E3: Microsoft and Sony Lower Prices
- E3: Microsoft Details Xbox Enhancements
- E3: PlayStation to Go
- Self-Destructing DVDs Coming Soon from Disney
- pressplay to Be the New Napster

3. Announcement
- Get the eBook That Will Help You Get Certified!

4. Quick Poll
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Integrated PCs
- New Poll: Home Technology Hub

5. Resource
- Tip: Keep the Computer in Your Home Office

6. Events
- Windows & .NET Magazine Web Seminar

7. New and Improved
- Optimize Autostart and Your PC's Life

8. Contact Us
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

==== Sponsor: Windows & .NET Magazine ====

Microsoft Mobility Tour
If you were too busy to catch our Microsoft Mobility Tour event in person, now you can view the Webcast archives for free! You'll learn more about the available solutions for PC and mobile devices and discover where the mobility marketplace is headed.


==== 1. Getting Connected: Sync It, Sync It Good, Part 2 ====
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]


In Part 1 of "Sync It, Sync It Good" (see the URL below), I discussed some of the strategies you can use to synchronize data personal settings and other information between two or more PCs. This scenario is increasingly important as more people add to, rather than replace, existing PCs. Thanks to increasingly powerful PCs, a 2- or 3-year-old PC is no longer the barely usable piece of junk it would have been a decade ago; now, old PCs are often just as useful as new ones, especially if high-powered 3-D games aren't your thing. Data synchronization is even more important for people who purchase notebook computers. Nothing compares with being stuck 3000 miles from home and realizing you don't have the latest version of a file or the updated version of your contacts list that includes your brother's new phone number.

I recently visited Germany, in part for work and in part for play: I was scheduled to speak at an IT show called Windows-Forum 2003 and decided to take a week off and visit the country with my wife. I had no easy way to email or call someone back at home for information, so data synchronization really came into focus. If I had left the house without the right data, life could have become difficult.

Unfortunately, my data-synchronization techniques are haphazard and not easily reproducible. What I really need is an advanced version of Apple Computer's iSync, one that runs on both Windows and Macintosh and lets me synchronize data through a Web-based service so that I can get remote access to that data even when I don't have my PC. Alas, such a service doesn't yet exist, at least not to my knowledge. However, I was interested to see how other people handled this problem and turned for advice to the excellent feedback I received from the first installment of "Sync It, Sync It Good."

Reader Craig Vogel correctly noted that data replication often encompasses two tasks: backup and sharing. Backing up data is pretty obvious, and most people will use whatever backup tools and media they have handy to perform this task. Vogel specifically addressed calendar sharing, a topic we've touched on here in Connected Home EXPRESS, but I think we can safely widen this category to include any easily accessible, read-only data access. For example, I push all my most recent contacts and schedule information to a PDA before I travel, but I don't edit any of that information while I'm on the road--it's for quick-access viewing only. Don't have a PDA? No problem: Just print your information. I do that as well, and it still works great. Sometimes, sharing means just that: You want to share schedules or other information with people in a read-only format. For example, I might want my wife to have read-only access to my calendar, but I certainly don't want her to edit it (although, frankly, I'd probably be more organized if she could). Programs such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Calendar, and Apple's iCal let you do this, and MSN users can push schedules to remote servers or PDAs.

A few readers mentioned manual ways to copy data between two or more PCs, and I suspect that's how most people synchronize data. If you understand where your data is stored, you can copy it fairly easily. However, some data is curiously difficult to find, such as Outlook Express email or Outlook .pst files, which store email, calendar, contacts, and other information. Most Windows versions store these data files in hidden folders. However, if you're interested in synchronizing this data between two or more computers, you can configure both Outlook (in Tools, Options, Mail Setup, Data Files) and Outlook Express (in Tools, Options, Maintenance, Store Folder) to store data in other, more easily accessed locations. (MSN users have this ability automatically by installing MSN on two or more systems, and .Mac subscribers can back up and share personal information manager--PIM--data.) One reader even noted that he uses VBScript to automate the process of moving data between two PCs, but this solution isn't easy for the faint of heart or technically disinclined.

For backup, most Windows versions (and Macs with .Mac) come with acceptable software backup applications, but I prefer applications such as Roxio's Easy CD & DVD Creator 6 for backing up to optical media. My documents, email, and data files take up so much space that I have to use several recordable DVDs to make a full backup, so I also back up crucial data to other machines on the network when possible. I travel a lot, so my most important data comes with me on a notebook computer when I'm on the road. In a simplistic way, the notebook gives me both access to the data I need and the physical separation that I need for backups. If I'm backing up to CD-ROM or DVD, I don't want to leave my backups in the same room as the original PC. If disaster (e.g., fire, theft) strikes, I could lose my backup data and the PC. So offsite backups are key, perhaps at work or at a friend's or family member's house.

I've mentioned MSN and .Mac for online synchronization, but reader Stas Novikov notes that Yahoo! offers the same service--without a fee. True enough, Yahoo! Calendar, Address Book, and Notepad are still free. These features sync with Outlook, Outlook Express, Palm OS handheld devices, Lotus Organizer, and ACT!. The Yahoo! service handles duplicates, conflicts, and auto field mapping, thanks to a special version of IntelliSync for Yahoo!. You can also find pay services that offer online disk space for backup, but I think local backups to other hard disks, PCs, and optical disks (or even Zip disks if your needs are smaller) are more viable for most people.

I've touched only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to synchronizing data. Thanks to everyone who wrote; please keep those suggestions coming!

==== 2. News and Views ====
An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman

E3: Microsoft and Sony Lower Prices
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2003 gaming expo on May 13 through 15, both Microsoft and Sony surprised the industry by cutting US prices of their gaming consoles. In addition, Sony announced that in June it will release an updated version of the popular PlayStation 2 with better support for recordable DVD media, progressive scan (higher video quality), and a built-in network adapter. The updated console will retail for $199.99. In the meantime, to clear out inventory of the current PlayStation 2, Sony slashed the price to $179. Microsoft responded by dropping the price of Xbox from $199 to $179.99, in the company's words, to help its "commitment to the consumer to offer the best system at the best price." We think Microsoft got confused and didn't realize Sony's price cut was only temporary. We had expected to see a smaller, redesigned version of the Xbox at E3, but those plans appear to be on hold for now.

E3: Microsoft Details Xbox Enhancements
Microsoft did, however, announce plans to expand the Xbox's appeal into nongaming applications. The company announced a new product called the Xbox Music Mixer, which will go on sale this fall for $40 and will let users transfer digital music and photos from their computers to the console's built-in hard disk. The company hinted that it's working on technology that will let Xbox users view TV programs recorded on computers. Microsoft has fought hard to deny claims of having a hidden agenda to extend the Xbox's control into the living room; at this point in the Xbox's development, the company believes the Xbox has proven itself as a gaming machine well enough to survive additional nongaming features. Subscribers of Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming service now also know how much it will cost them to keep their subscriptions after the initial 1-year subscription that came with the starter kit. Microsoft has priced Xbox Live at $50 for a 1-year subscription or $6 per month. The company also raised the price of the Xbox Live starter kit, which includes a headset and 1-year subscription, to $70 from its original price of $50. Microsoft announced a new Xbox Live feature, which will debut this fall, that will let gamers alert their friends by cell phone, handheld computer, and other devices when they want to play games online.

E3: PlayStation to Go
Sony is going to try its luck at the portable gaming industry, which the Nintendo GameBoy has dominated for many years. Sony, which took the gaming industry by storm with the introduction of the PlayStation gaming console in the 1990s, hopes to have similar success in the portable game market. The new handheld device, which is called PlayStation Portable, will ship with a 480 x 272 (16 x 9 widescreen) TFT backlit LCD monitor, support for a new 1.8GB 60mm optical disc, a USB 2.0 port, and a memory card. The device will be able to play MPEG-4 video and will use curved surfaces and conventional polygons to display 3-D images. Nintendo has succeeded in the portable game market by keeping the GameBoy easy to use, giving it great battery life, and creating attractive and addictive games designed for the portable device's small footprint. Seeing how Nintendo responds to the threat from a new competitor will be interesting. The company has a little time before it has to get too worried, though; Sony doesn't expect to ship the PlayStation Portable until fall 2004. How Sony expects to package so many features in a small package and still get more than 5 minutes of battery life is unknown.

Self-Destructing DVDs Coming Soon from Disney
The Walt Disney Company is about to launch a pilot program for new DVD technology that will render movies unplayable after 48 hours. The new program will let customers rent DVDs that won't have to be returned, making it easier for entertainment companies to offer rentals in any store without worrying about setting up return processes. The technology, which Flexplay Technologies developed, turns the discs from red to black over the course of 48 hours after the discs are taken out of their packages and exposed to oxygen. The black discs are unreadable by DVD players. Disney says the technology can't be "hacked" because it involves a chemical process, not computer technology. The company will brand the new technology as EZ-D, and the initial titles to be released using the technology include "The Recruit," "The Hot Chip," and "Signs." Flexplay expects other movie studios to offer the technology soon.

pressplay to Be the New Napster
Roxio--which recently acquired the assets of Napster, the infamous music-sharing service--has purchased online music-subscription company pressplay from Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group. By March 2004, Roxio will relaunch pressplay under the brand Napster. pressplay has content-licensing deals with all five major record labels, as well as many independent music publishers and distribution agreements with Microsoft and Yahoo!. The companies hope the Napster brand will help expand the struggling subscription service's appeal. The subscription service competes with free, but illegal, music-sharing services as well as Apple Computer's new iTunes Music Store. Unlike iTunes Music Stores, which charges for each song a customer buys, pressplay charges subscribers a monthly subscription fee and has many tight restrictions on music content. Both Sony and Universal will continue to hold a stake in the venture.

==== 3. Announcement ====
(from Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)

Get the eBook That Will Help You Get Certified!
The "Insider's Guide to IT Certification," from the Windows & .NET Magazine Network, has one goal: to help you save time and money on your quest for certification. Find out how to choose the best study guides, save hundreds of dollars, and be successful as an IT professional. The amount of time you spend reading this book will be more than made up by the time you save preparing for your certification exams. Order your copy today!

==== 4. Quick Poll ====

Results of Last Week's Poll: Integrated PCs
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Would you be interested in buying a computer with an integrated phone and camera?" Here are the results from the 131 votes:
- 47% Yes
- 53% No

New Poll: Home Technology Hub
The next Quick Poll question is, "In your opinion, what should be the hub of home technology?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Computer, b) TV or set-top box, c) Home gateway, d) Separate devices for specific functions, or e) Some combination of the above.

==== 5. Resource ====

Tip: Keep the Computer in Your Home Office
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

A recent trend has computer companies trying to sell PCs as home entertainment devices, and I don't think the trend will last. If Windows XP Media Center Edition proves anything, it's that PCs simply aren't as reliable and stable as consumer electronics devices such as DVD players. So unless you want to continually reboot your TV, think about where you put that PC. PCs are good for collecting and massaging digital media. For example, a PC is a great device for ripping audio CDs and editing home movies. But when it comes time to consume that data, think about devices that let you grab digital media from your home PC over a home network and display it on TV or listen to it on a stereo system. These solutions are not only less expensive than full-fledged PCs, they're less complex, which means they'll be more reliable than a PC. Unless you're a slave to complexity or simply have to live on the cutting edge, a TiVo, Media Center TV client, or similar device is a much better addition to your den than a real PC.

Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.

==== 6. Events ====
(brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine)

Windows & .NET Magazine Web Seminar
How can you reclaim 30% to 50% of Windows server space? Attend the newest Web seminar from Windows & .NET Magazine, and discover the secrets from the experts.

==== 7. New and Improved ====
by Jason Bovberg, [email protected]

Optimize Autostart and Your PC's Life
F-Group Software announced Absolute StartUp 2.1, autostart-manager software that provides new program-start settings. The software gets your OS running, as well as your favorite programs, such as ICQAgent, MSNMessanger, WimAmp, and shareware. The new version monitors changes in the autostart system; views, launches, and stops programs; offers a Smart Recycle Bin; and lets you use one key to cancel a program launch at Windows startup. Absolute StartUp works on Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows Me, and Windows 9x and costs $24.95. You can download a free trial version from the company's Web site. For more information about Absolute StartUp 2.1, contact F-Group at [email protected] or on the Web.


==== 8. Contact Us ====

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