The Mac’s two enemies and where Apple iPhone can take us

While sitting around doing nothing, my brain was wondering.  I happened across the thoughts of the endless battle between Windows and Mac fanboys.  How everything from market share, viruses, ease of use, crashes, etc. is used as fodder for one side to continually peg the other.  All of a sudden it came to me; there really are two things that are going to be over the next probably ten years that are going to make or break it for Apple; Web Apps and the Apple iPhone.  Subsequently it also morphed into a future prediction for the world of Mac and Tech.

First, it’s time for full disclosure.  I am a Windows guy.  I’ve used Windows since the 3.0 days and have used it ever since.  I’ve also used Macs some.  From the horrible System 7 when I was in middle school to a much improved OSX.  With that said, I think Apple has done some great things for the technology world.  OSX is truly a great operating system and the Mac hardware is beautiful and functional (except rev. 1 products).  The house that Jobs built is definitely a worthy competitor to the Microsoft world.  The only reason that I have not owned a Mac is the price makes it hard for me to justify it, but to each his own.

So now let us dive in to the meat of my out of left field idea.  Web Apps will be the killer of MacOS (and most desktop OSes) for the general public.  Most of the computing public does a few things with their computers.  They surf the web, edit a few documents, look at pictures, update their Twitter and Facebook status, and maybe play a casual game.  All of these tasks can and do exist in the browser already.  Now there are those of us who do other things that have to be native apps, but the majority of the computer owning public do not.  Very few people are PC gamers, the consoles have taken the lion share of that market and the Mac platform has very few games written for it.

Since most things now run in the browser, how important is the OS.  The OS is not going to die anytime soon, but as the browser becomes the main screen for most users why pay for the glitzy OS.  Of course this argument also applies to Windows, but I see it affecting the Mac platform first.  Why spend $2000 dollars for an iMac that can run OSX (even if it may be better) when all you need is a cheap windows PC with a functional browser?   This is going to force Apple eventually to either lower the price of its systems, which given Apples reaction to the netbook segment seems unlikely, or cause a major paradigm shift for the general computing public.  This leads me to my second reason, the iPhone.

I see the iPhone as the next widespread Mac platform.  Going back to our mainstream user needs, what about that can the iPhone not do now?  The Apple iPhone is everything the public wants, a cheap Mac.  Apple has already shown that they can sell the hell out of the thing.  Plus if I’m not mistaken, iPhone platform has more applications and games developed for it then OSX.  The only thing missing from the iPhone is a larger screen (for document editing and better web browsing), a keyboard (for document editing and email), and more storage (for pictures and documents).  I truly see in years to come the end of the iMac and Macbook.  Instead I see “extenders” of the iPhone taking their place.  How awesome would it be to have a larger screen on your desktop, with a keyboard, hard drive, and broadband network connection to dock your Apple iPhone in.  Of course Apple would keep OSX and the Mac Pro for power users, but you could even have a Foleo type mobile dock for the phone to replace the Macbook.  What about processor intensive tasks?  Let us say Apple’s desktop dock has a graphics chip to offload the graphics tasks.  Through OpenCL the iPhone OS can offload video processing, picture manipulation, etc. without requiring the phone to have a beefy processor.  Ubiquitous computing would come true and I can see Apple being the only one to bring it to fruition.  What else could lend credence to a shift like this?  Take the gradual market shift from desktops to laptops.  While laptop power has increased, it still is not close to the power on the desktop.  It works though because a laptop has enough power to do what most people need it to.  Even the iMacs that Apple produces now use mostly laptop components.

Now that I have the entire Apple fanboy world wound up, let me temper the flames by saying that this same paradigm shift will also affect Windows.  It’s just going to take a lot longer to make the shift.  Marketshare and business penetration will slow this progression on the Microsoft side.  It would take a radical break from the status quo, architecture, and people to jump on the idea to make it come to fruition.  Who else has the knowhow and balls to make this happen?  Simple, Steve Jobs.  It makes the acquisition of PA Semi and the patent from Apple a few years ago for a large docking station for a mobile device make sense don’t it?

Barnes and Noble Nook reader; Kindle Killer?

It’s no secret that Amazon’s Kindle has defined the e-book reader market segment.  It brought in a breath of fresh air to a segment that up until that time was well, boring.  In Apple like fashion they integrated a great bookstore, wireless downloading, and via Oprah, a cult like following.  Like all market leaders though, they have been attacked via the 1984 fiasco and calls for a more open platform.

Enter Barnes and Noble.  The brick and mortar book mega-tailer has finally seen the impending writing on the wall for paper in this digital age.  They took what the Kindle has and cranked it up to 11.  My one peeve though is the name, Nook.  Don’t get me wrong, Kindle is not much more descriptive, but Nook just sounds like a Fisher Price product.  I just hate product names that sound hokey and childish.  End Rant.

The Nook gets so much more right then the Kindle.  The segmented screen, part e-ink and part color, makes for a much more user friendly and eye appealing presentation.  It also integrates the tech sector’s newest fad, multi-touch.  The killer feature to me though is not part of the device itself, but the Barnes and Noble stores.  You can actually go to the store and touch it, evaluate it, and see if it works with your eyes.  The Kindle has yet to match this, but I see deals with retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy on the horizon.  They allow you to use the stores themselves as libraries, browsing the physical books and then being able to sit in store and read books for free.  This is a great idea to boost the coffee shop portion of the stores.  It makes it much more intuitive and easier to find books in a genre that you enjoy when you can pick up the book see the covers and scan through it quickly.  This is something that no website will be able to match.

One killer feature that seems to be getting poo-pooed by the tech community is the book “loaning” process.  For 14 days you can “loan” a book to a friend, allow them to read it, and get it back.  Now while this loan is occurring you do not have access to the book.  Now first off, I’m sure that the content providers were the ones that demanded this feature.  In all reality though, if I lend a paper book to a friend, I can’t read it while they have it.  So it only makes sense to me that I cannot read the electronic version while I loan it to a friend.  Come on people, we can’t have our cake and eat too all the time.

Now for the bad.  To compete with the Kindles download anywhere feature they used AT&T’s wireless network.  Why this decision was made, given the hatred of that network by iPhone users is confusing at the least.  I guess the argument can be made that GSM is a worldwide standard, saving on design costs for an international version and the fact the T-Mobiles network in the US is nowhere near as far reaching.  The other deal killer is the question of how many publishers will allow the “loan-a-book” feature.  If too many publishers opt-out of this, you take a positively killer feature and murder it.  B&N really needs to make sure as many publishers are on board as possible.

Lastly, I have one small gripe with the tech press more than I do with the reader itself.  Everyone seems to think that the fact that the Nook is based off of the Android platform is a killer feature.  I contend that it doesn’t matter.  Most of the people who buy this product could care less what the underlying software is, just the same as they could care less who makes the processor, screen, memory, etc.  The only way Android becomes a “feature” is if B&N opens the platform up for development, something I do not see happening.  I highly doubt they will allow developers to use the data connection on a device where the connection is essentially subsidized.  I could be wrong on this, but if they want the product to “just work” outside applications will not be allowed.

All in all the Barnes and Noble Nook will definitely give the Kindle a run for its money.  The biggest problem is that Amazon has already locked up a good portion of the e-reader market.  Current Kindle owners now face the reality of any closed system, if they want to move to the Nook, all the books on the Kindle are now useless.  This harkens back to the days of Apples FairPlay system on iTunes, locking people into that ecosystem.  I’m sure though there will be some intrepid hackers that will find ways to remove the DRM and allow people to move the books they paid for over.

Microsoft Security Essentials Released

Yesterday Microsoft Security Essentials, Microsoft’s free Anti-virus solution, was released.  I’ve been beta testing it for the last few months and have to say it is fantastic.  It’s one of the few anti-virus solutions that is fully 64 bit.  I’ve been using it on numerous virtual machines from XP to Windows 7 and everything in between.  The CPU and memory usage is very minimal and I notice nary a slowdown even in virtual machines with limited memory.  On my Windows 7 install it uses 336K to 5286K of memory. On a 512 MB install of Windows XP it uses 8556K

As far as detection, I’m smart enough to not download pointless things from websites I’ve never heard about.  But when I do download something, that could possibly be questionable, I scan it.  And that one time Security Essentials found something and automatically went and cleaned it up.  It took a few minutes, but it was a rather large .RAR file.  This article has a quote that Security Essentials detected and removed all 3,194 viruses on the AV-Tests “wild list.”  Not bad for a free product.  Why is it so good?  It’s based on Microsoft’s enterprise ForeFront AV firewall program.  This is the inbound scanner that many large companies use, so they see a lot of data.

Scan times are also improved from other solutions.  Doing a quick scan on my Windows 7 x64 rig takes well under 10 minutes, and that’s with two 1 Terabyte drives.  Updates take place automatically and I haven’t had a failed one yet, unlike with Norton or AVG free.  And one of the greatest features is that you don’t have to reboot the system to upgrade the product.  I have tested this on Win7x64 and Windows XP x86.  Other reviewers have said that Security Essentials will not use more than 50% of the processor during a scan.  I have to say this is true, running a quick scan on a VM of XP (which appears as a single core) it regularly runs from 15% to 50%, occasionally spiking to 90%, but still only takes 1.8 minutes.

The verdict?  Definitely if you want a free solution this is the way to go.  You really can’t go wrong.  Even Steve Gibson of GRC.com fame has stated on his Security Now podcast that this is the first anti-virus program he will use.  His biggest point to make was the lack of false positives, which if you have used other products has borked some windows installs deleting a “good” file.  I’m running it on all of my installs and VM’s and can’t say one bad thing about it.  It just makes it that much better that its free.

Get it here

What the Xbox 360 needs – a web browser

It makes no sense to me that the only game console that does not have an internet browser, is the one whose company has the dominant browser on the internet.  Sony has a browser not only on the PS3 but also on the PSP. Nintendo partnered with Opera for one on the Wii.  So why in the next Xbox Experience update are they adding, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and missing the one thing that would complete the Xbox 360’s dominance in the living room.  I don’t understand the reluctance of Microsoft to add a browser when they are even looking to add one to the Zune.

So let us put on our stupid corporate reasoning hats and try to come up with reasons for not doing this.

  • Competition with Xbox video marketplace.  Should they use a version of IE and then get flash support this could be a killer HULU and Youtube machine.  But this would be at the expense of the Xbox video marketplace.  Honestly though I really wonder how many people actually purchase video on the Xbox.  Also you can stream video to it with the Xbox being one of the best extenders out there.
  • Security.  I almost put this down as a joke with Microsoft having security issues in projects all the time.  One would think though that there is less of a reason to target the Xbox platform.  You can’t run a botnet program on it as its PowerPC based, and there is no file storage per say on the device so nothing to harvest.
  • Resources issue.  Microsoft slept on the train wreck that was IE6 for so long and has ramped up the group to get IE 7 and 8 out in rapid succession that they don’t have the time for a rewrite.  I don’t see how difficult it would be to recompile the IE engine to run on the PPC platform.

So now that I’ve wasted brain power trying to come up with possible reasons to not bring browsing to the console, let us explore why I want one.  I really want a lightweight browser that I can use so that while I’m laying down on the couch, I can check the news, look at sports scores, etc.  It also be great to pull up Gmail real quick and check on anything new that’s come in.  Its convenience people, and it be nice to not have to keep the laptop around in the living room.  Please Microsoft, give us the browser!

Ultramax Ammunition Mini-Review

If you don’t know what Ultramax Ammunition is this is for you.  I’m sure you will see it in stock everywhere while wondering why all other ammo is out of stock.  Here is why.  It is commercially reloaded ammunition.  Now this isn’t a bad thing, and is probably safer than doing it yourself with sub-standard tools.  But as with everything there are drawbacks.

I had purchased this ammo because I was receiving my Citadel 1911 and had nothing to shoot in it.  Every store in the area was out of all ammo in .45 ACP, but this stuff happened to be in stock at Dicks Sporting Goods.  Rather than having nothing to shoot, I figured this was a safe bet to at least check the function of the gun.

First off the ammo tested was Ultramax reload chambered for .45 ACP 230 grain lead hardball.  The ammo casings were from numerous manufacturers including Remington, Winchester, and Speer.  Most every casing looked new with only a few having a minor dent on the case.  Overall length of the cartridges seemed a bit shallow, but consistent.  These were eyeball measurements as I didn’t have a set of calipers out at the range.

Firing the ammo was non-eventful.  It functioned as it should with no FTF or FTE on the 1911.  It does seem to be loaded lighter compared to Speer Lawman 230g FMJ and some Winchester White Box 185g FMJ.  My only complaint really is the powder they use.  This stuff is smokey.  When firing the gun it almost looked as if a civil war re-enactment was going on at my stall on the range.   And with that smoke comes a lot of grime.  The gun was filthy when I got it home.  This was after 150 rounds of the Ultramax and 50 rounds of Winchester White Box.  Conversely looking at my friends 1911, a Les Baer, after he shot 200 rounds of Speer Lawman, the gun was pretty clean.

Verdict:  There is nothing wrong with this ammo.  It is just nothing special.  If you run out and need something for a day at the range by all means go for it, you will still have fun.  Just be sure to clean your piece when you get home.  It will need it.

http://www.ultramaxammunition.com/home.html

Why Google’s Chrome OS isn’t a big deal, yet

Google has just announced Chrome OS which is an extension of their popular Chrome browser. I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of an instant on OS that accesses the web and breaks new paradigms is intriguing.  The problem is that already everyone is hailing this as the new Messiah OS.  I’m sure Steve Jobs feels the RDF waning just a bit.  I for one, don’t see this as a big deal yet, if not for awhile.

This is not the “first” time someone has had this great idea of a instantly bootable web OS.  Isn’t this what netbooks were supposed to be?  Weren’t they supposed to run Linux, boot up quickly, and use web apps to be useful?  Yup.  There are also pre-boot environments out there for windows pc’s.  These were touted by everyone to be more useful and people were swooning over these “instant on” computers.  I’d wager a bet that 98% of the people who own these computers never use this environment.  Why you ask?  It is probably because people don’t like having to boot back and forth between these environments.  Also I know some of these environments silo the data on the hard drive or there are incompatibilities with file formats.  People know windows and it works, not necessarily the best, but it works.

The Google announcement also makes it sound as if web applications do not work at all on current platforms.  I thought the whole idea of developing Chrome was the reasoning that web apps would run wickedly fast in their browser.  The perfect example of this web app only idea was the iPhone.  Developers were rabid for native application support because of the limitations of web applications.  While I like Google Apps and sometimes use them, they don’t hold a candle to the functionality of Microsoft Office.  Going back to the netbook theory, the reason their success took off was because they ran Windows cheaply and could run “big boy” apps, except games.

One other question I’m curious about is hardware support.  You know that driver manufacturers are going to drag their heels when it comes to supporting Chrome OS.  I’m sure too that Google is not going to spend considerable R&D money to write drivers for everything.  Hell you can’t even count on a big vendor such as HP to make drivers for Vista for a printer that was released in the last two years of XP.

Lastly I don’t really think there is room for another OS choice.  Windows and OSX have a strangle hold on the majority of the market.  Linux, whilst having made huge strides here recently, is still a niche OS to the tech savvy out there.  And let’s be honest here, you’re not going to give your mom Linux.  What I honestly would like to see, is Apple open up the iPhone version of OSX to put on netbooks.  You have tons of app support already and a great interface that would work touch screen or keyboard controlled.

Or I could be wrong and this could be a game changer.