CompuServe Memories

July 11th, 2009

On my personal blog, I just posted a lengthy article reminiscing about my experiences working for CompuServe in the early 1990s.  I decided not to duplicate it here as I’d prefer to maintain a single link to the article.  To view the article, please follow the below link:

CompuServe Article on Bigbeaks Blog

Why I Don’t Have a Palm Pre Yet

June 16th, 2009

June 6th was the launch date for the Palm Pre, the heavily hyped new smartphone from Palm and Sprint.  What I really want in a phone is something that matches the elegance and simplicity of the user interface on Apple’s iPhone, but still includes a physical keyboard and multitasking capabilities.  The Pre appears to be a very close fit, almost certainly much better than the Windows-mobile based HTC Touch Pro that I bought last year.

I definitely tend to be an early-adopter on new gadgets, so it certainly wouldn’t have been surprising if I had run out to buy a Pre last weekend.  In fact, I would have very much liked to have made that purchase.  Unfortunately, I’m already a Sprint customer and, as I mentioned earlier, I purchased a new phone last year.  Because of this, I am not currently eligible for upgrade pricing, which means that any phone purchased now would cost me considerably higher than the new or upgrade eligible customer pricing, which, of course, is the pricing that Sprint and Palm are advertising publicly.

I am, of course, under a 2-year contract with Sprint that was a necessary condition for the purchase of my last phone.  I completely recognize the validity and legality of that contract and that it is the underlying reason why I am not eligible for upgrading without a price penalty.  My purpose in this post is not to argue that my situation is somehow unfair or that I am being denied an entitlement.  I never had any expectation of being able to upgrade early and I don’t believe that there is anything unethical, much less illegal, about the system.

What I do question pretty strongly is whether or not the current business model used by the cell phone industry is a correct one in today’s marketplace.  Particularly since Apple has turned the smartphone into a much more mainstream product with the iPhone, the industry has entered a phase of extremely rapid growth and enhanced competition with frequent introduction of new models with desirable new features.  I strongly question whether customers are going to continue to be willing to accept a system that requires a 2 year wait between upgrades.

I had initially started thinking about this as subject for a blog post after getting into a Twitter discussion of it during the day of the Pre launch.  I got busy with other things and didn’t find time to start working on it until later.  In the meantime, this became a very hot subject generating a lot of coverage both in blogs and the mainstream press after Apple announced the third-generation version of the iPhone and AT&T revealed that the lower pricing would not be available to current iPhone owners that are still under contract.  This is a change from the approach taken with the last version of the iPhone, which was offered at the new-customer price to owners of the previous version, regardless of contract status.

The central idea behind current business model used by the cell phone industry is that the carriers subsidize a portion of the purchase price for the phone in exchange for the customer committing to a service contract, generally for 2 years.  If the customer chooses to switch carriers before the contract is up, he/she is obligated to pay a fairly substantial fee to buy out the contract.  Most carriers offer the customer the option of a smaller discount on an a new phone half way through the contract.  After the contract expires, the customer is generally eligible to again get the same subsidy offered to a new subscriber.

The contract system eliminates a lot of the need for carriers to expend much effort in customer retention, outside of the discounted phones offered at the end of the contract.  This likely saves the companies a lot of money, but is also almost certainly the biggest contributor to the industry’s reputation for poor customer service.  I have found that no matter which of the big cell phone carriers is mentioned, it doesn’t take long for someone to start telling stories about their horrible experiences.

It is in the best interest of the cellular carriers for most phones to have non-subsidized prices that are prohibitively high for most people since, otherwise, it is a safe bet that most people would forgo the contract.  This would make it much easier for customers to switch carriers at will and, thus, would greatly increase the cost and effort that the companies would have to expend towards retention.  I have little doubt that this would dramatically improve the quality of the customer experience, but it might or might not have a negative impact on profitability.

The big question is whether or not the non-subsidized prices really reflect the true cost of a cell phone or if they are kept artificially inflated by the cell phone manufacturers as a result of the subsidy-based sales model.  I admit that I have no direct knowledge, but my educated speculation is that the subsidized prices are probably more realistic.  The non-subsidized prices for phones (especially smartphones) simply seem way out of proportion with the pricing for other portable electronics.  In most cases, those prices are pretty close to what you would pay for a full-featured laptop computer and considerably higher than netbooks, stand-alone PDAs, or portable media players, any of which would seem more comparable technology.

The most obvious direct comparison would really be between the iPhone and the iPod Touch, which is basically an iPhone without the cellular radio or camera.  The pricing information for the 16GB version of the new iPhone 3GS has indicated that it costs $199 fully-subsidized (the price widely advertised), $399 for customers 1-year into their 2-year contract, or $599 un-subsidized.  The suggested retail price of the 16GB iPod Touch is $299 and it can be found in the $260-$275 range if you shop around.  I can certainly see where the added features of the iPhone would justify a higher price, but does it really make sense that they would double it?

In all fairness, my instinct looking at those numbers is that the $399 price offered after 1-year is probably the most realistic one.  While I suspect the price on the iPod Touch is also a bit inflated (it doesn’t really have direct competitors), it really does look like the $199 price probably brings in a pretty thin profit margin, if there is any at all.  The same is probably true with the similarly priced Palm Pre, although it does also have somewhat lighter specs, including only 8GB of memory. Even if the subsidies do push the prices down below the actual cost of the phone, I can still see justification for why the carriers might want to subsidize even for existing customers still under contract in order to prolong their contract and help to ensure loyalty.

I think that they might want to look to the satellite TV business as a possible example.  I’ve been a DirecTV customer for a number of years and they also use a system of contracts and subsidized equipment.  The big difference from the cellular business, though, is that DirecTV lets current customers upgrade their equipment (such as going to a DVR or hi-definition) at the fully subsidized price no matter how far they are into a contract.  The one catch is that doing so will reset their contractual start date to the date of the upgrade.  This helps to accommodate any need that the customer might have to move up to something better or different, while also pushing further back the date at which he/she might be able to switch to a competitor.

I do imagine that the cellular industry would probably prefer to stick with the current fairly customer-unfriendly system for as long as possible, but I do seem some recent signs that they may very well be changing their approach.  The recent publicity over AT&T’s prices for iPhone upgrades hasn’t been very good for them, even if they are pretty clearly within their rights.  A fan base as loyal as the more vocal iPhone owners, particularly when they are so willing to spend more money to make sure they have the latest and greatest, really does need to be cultivated and protected.  Policies that seem to directly target those loyal customers may not be in the company’s best interest, even if they appear to be the most financially prudent on the surface.

Another interesting development is Sprint’s recent introduction of the Sprint Premier loyalty program.  Customers that have achieved high longevity (10 years or more) or have one of the higher-end service plans (priced over $69.99/month, a fairly common price point for a smartphone with both a voice and data plan) are automatically enrolled in that program.  While the program offers a number of smaller benefits, the big one is that those customers are eligible for the fully-subsidized upgrade price at the end of the first year of a 2-year contract.  While Sprint’s recent issues with customer retention probably made this more necessary for them, it still is a pretty clear acknowledgement that higher-end customers are increasingly unwilling to wait 2 years between upgrades.

HTC Touch Pro from Sprint Delayed

October 8th, 2008

It appears that the release date for the HTC Touch Pro from Sprint has been pushed back from October 19th to November 2nd.  My employer is associated with Sprint’s Employee Value Program (EVP), which started taking pre-orders on the phone last week.  I placed an order with them right away and just received an email informing me of the availability date change.  Since the EVP program is essentially a mechanism for the company to reward their largest business customers, it is pretty unlikely that the phone would be available from the consumer mail-order or the Sprint stores earlier.

I did a little searching online and found this very long thread on the PPCGeeks discussion boards in which quite a few other people confirm from a variety of sources that November 2nd is now the expected release date.  There is some discussion that Best Buy stores might get an exclusive on the phone one week earlier, although there is also a fair amount of speculation that the stores may have simply not yet gotten around to changing the release date.

Hopefully the date won’t slip any further and I will have my new phone some time during the first week of next month.  I’ve already ordered several accessories (8GB micro-SD card, cradle, extra charger and sync cable, and a car kit) so I hopefully will be well prepared once it arrives.

Never heard of Slate Tablet PCs?

October 2nd, 2008

I came across an odd post by Jason D. O’Grady entitled Would you buy an all-screen notebook computer? on the in the "Apple Core" blog at ZDNet.  This really short post centered on the proposed concept for the second-generation OLPC, which is expected to have a lower screen that can be used as a virtual keyboard (with haptic feedback) instead of a physical keyboard.  O’Grady then went on to provide a poll asking if readers would be willing to buy an all-screen notebook.

The strange thing about this post was that there was absolutely no mention of slate Tablet PCs and UMPCs.  O’Grady was instead treating the idea of an all-screen notebook as if it were a completely original and radical idea as opposed to simply a new example of something that has existed for several years.  The poll question only had "yes" or "no" options and didn’t even have the obvious "I already have one" as a choice.

This was posted on an Apple-centered blog, which is almost certainly the key explanation for this.  Slate notebooks to date have mainly been Windows-based (although there are a few Linux models out there too) and Apple focused bloggers have a definite tendency to pretend that the Windows world essentially doesn’t exist, particularly when it comes to innovative features that haven’t shown up in Apple products.  I’m even a tad surprised that the OLPC caught this author’s attention considering that it isn’t an Apple product.

The no-keypad design of the iPhone and iPod Touch has also generated a fair amount of posts and articles from Apple bloggers and journalists that seem to suggest that the concept was completely new or that only cite the Apple Newton as a precedent.  Of course, there have been numerous slate PDAs and phones in the Palm OS and Windows Mobile world for years, but I guess they don’t really count since they aren’t Apple products.

I really don’t have anything against Apple (I actually recently got my wife a MacBook), but the extremely myopic viewpoint of some Apple enthusiasts has always been an irritation to me.

T-Mobile G1 – The First Google Android Phone

September 23rd, 2008

The big news in the technology press today is the announcement of the T-Mobile G1, the first cell phone to run Google’s open-source Android operating system.  It is an intriguing product and it looks to me like Android could turn into a major player in the cell phone business, although I can’t say that I’m ready to jump on board just yet.

Generally, I like the design of the phone itself.  It is made by HTC and, in a number of ways, it resembles the HTC Touch Pro, which I’ve previously mentioned as my most-likely next phone.  I suspect that the combination of a large touch-screen and a slide-out keyboard is going to be a pretty common and popular design among those of us that aren’t as enamored with the iPhone’s touch-only interface.  I’ve seen a few comments online complaining that the G1 isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing phone to come along, but I generally think it looks ok.  Admittedly, it does seem to be designed more for functionality than as a style accessory, though.

While the screen shots and descriptions of Android look pretty good, my immediate impression is that this is definitely a very immature platform and I just can’t see jumping on board before it becomes a bit more established.  Today’s announcement actually did a pretty good job of hammering that home as they openly admitted that such features as Microsoft Exchange and stereo Bluetooth support would not be available at launch but could be made available later via third-party applications.  With the open-source nature of Android, I would bet on those features becoming available sooner rather than later, but it is anyone’s guess as to how long it will really take as well as how soon those features will have the stability and maturity of their equivalents on other platforms.

Sometimes, I am interested in being an early-adopter on new technologies and platforms, but I do also have to look at utility as well.  The G1 is a pretty attractive product and I suspect that Android could have a significant future.  The way that the cellular industry works with the subsidized phones in exchange for extended contracts, I expect that it will be at least 2 years before I give Android any serious consideration.

HTC Touch Pro – Probably My Next Smartphone

September 10th, 2008

My current contract with Sprint expired at the beginning of this month, meaning that I am now eligible for the best-available discounts on an upgrade for my aging Palm Treo 700P.  Over the last few months, I have been looking at a number of cell phone options and have largely settled on the HTC Touch Pro as my next phone. 

I have been a long-time Palm OS user, so I admit that it is with a little bit of trepidation, and even sadness, that I make plans to switch to a Windows Mobile device.  The simple truth, though, is that development on the Palm OS has essentially stalled for several years and it is now severely behind in almost every aspect.  While updated versions from either Palm (which is promising a new, compatible OS) or Access (which ended up with ownership of the code base) or both are promised in the next year or so, these are still vaporware and I just don’t see continuing to live with yesterday’s technology while waiting around.  I do hope that I can ease the transition just a bit by getting StyleTap to allow at least some of my old Palm OS applications to still run.

While the HTC Touch Pro has been available outside the US for a while, it has only been available here as an expensive ($800 or more), unlocked GSM import that would work on AT&T or T-Mobile, although not always with full compatibility with the highest-speed networks.  Fortunately, the first official US version of the phone was announced today for availability via Sprint on October 19th.  Their press release describes it as follows:

HTC Touch Pro: HTC Touch Pro is a professional workhorse that enables mobile professionals to easily balance their professional and personal lives. Along with the features available on HTC Touch Diamond, HTC Touch Pro adds a five-row, slide-out QWERTY keyboard for easy data entry, expandable storage capabilities with a microSD card slot (1 GB card included) and a business card scanner application to automatically capture and convert business card information to contacts using the built-in 3.2 MP camera/camcorder. Additionally, with Windows Mobile 6.1, users have access to security and device management capabilities desired by most business customers when used with Microsoft’s System Center Mobile Device Manager solution. HTC Touch Pro will be available Oct. 19 for $299.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

The price really sounds right to me for a fairly high-end phone and its availability through Sprint is appealing as I’ve been satisfied with their service over the last couple years and I’m happy to avoid the hassles involved with changing carriers and porting my number. 

Here are a few of the key points about this phone that appeal to me over some of the key competitors in the same basic category:

  1. Keyboard: Every time I have purchased a portable computing device that did not have a keyboard (i.e. Palm VII, Palm LifeDrive, TabletKiosk eo v7110), I have replaced it within a year or so with one that did.  At some point, I feel like I have to accept the lesson and stick with what works best for me.  If Apple had an iPhone with a slide-out keyboard, I’d give it some serious consideration, but that just doesn’t exist now.  This is also the reason why I immediately sparked to the Touch Pro instead of the otherwise nearly-identical Touch Diamond.
  2. Large touch-screen: I really like the approach of retaining a large, VGA-resolution touch-screen via the use of a slide-out keyboard.  Sure, it adds a little bit of bulk to the phone (the Touch Pro is still smaller than my Treo), but I feel it is worth it to avoid compromise.  This is a big reason why I have decided against Palm’s latest Windows Mobile Treo models, despite otherwise impressive feature sets.
  3. Price/Network: As I said, I’ve been happy with Sprint and am willing to accept another contract in order to get the much lower subsidized price.  While conceptually I like the SIM card approach used on GSM phones, it didn’t make much difference to me back when I had AT&T (or Cingular) and I don’t think it would matter much now.  I just don’t need to switch phones often (especially at the unsubsidized prices) and I very rarely travel outside the US, something I don’t anticipate changing in the next 2 years.
  4. Overall feature set: Right now, the Touch Pro is pretty close to being the top-of-the-line for Windows Mobile phones and it really does seem to be the one model out there on any OS that seems to have just about every feature that I want.

Since the phone won’t be available for a little over a month, I do still have some time to look around at other options as well as to see if anyone announces something else that might be a better fit.  I pretty strongly suspect, though, that this blog will start featuring postings about my experiences with my new Touch Pro come mid-October.

Tablet PC and Over-sensitivity

September 9th, 2008

I’m definitely a big fan of the Tablet PC concept.  Both of the UMPCs that I have used as my primary laptop computers over the last few years have had touch-screens and Tablet capabilities, so I am very aware of the value of those features.  I suspect it to be a feature that I will look for whenever I purchase laptops or UMPCs for myself going forward.

As useful as Tablet PC functions are, I also know that they haven’t really caught on all that widely.  It still isn’t a top-priority for most people when picking out a laptop and the number of models that feature it are still fairly low.  I do think they are starting to become a bit more mainstream thanks to the sudden surge in popularity for touchscreens in the wake of the iPhone, but there is still quite a way to go.

This has led to a justifiable paranoia within the Tablet PC user community about the future of the feature.  While I do think it is a concern that is based in reality, it also can result in some occasional major over-reactions.  The case in point was a posting by lead engineer Steven Sinofsky on Microsoft’s Windows 7 Developer’s Blog that included the following quote during a discussion of features being considered for modularity:

Some examples are quite easy to see and you should expect us to do more along these lines, such as the TabletPC components.  I have a PC that is a very small laptop and while it has full tablet functionality it isn’t the best size for doing good ink work for me (I prefer a 12.1” or greater and this PC is a 10” screen).  The tablet code does have a footprint in memory and on the 1GB machine if I go and remove the tablet components the machine does perform better.

This is a basically harmless, and completely reasonable, statement.  Certainly, there is no reason to have the Tablet PC components in place on a computer that doesn’t need them.  Obviously, this should apply if the necessary hardware (a touch-screen or active digitizer) isn’t present, but I can understand Sinofsky’s point that one might even want to remove all or some of the features when you do have the hardware.  To be honest, I don’t really use the inking features on my Vye S37.  The screen real-estate is very small and the touch digitizer just isn’t overly well suited for it.  I love having the touch screen as a navigational tool, but that doesn’t really require that all the other Tablet features be active.

Sinofsky’s fairly mild comment generated a minor uproar in the Tablet community, in what generally struck me as a knee-jerk reaction.  This quote generated rather intense responses from very communitybloggers such as Lauren Heiny and James Kendrick, among others.   Both Heiny and Kendrick are bloggers that I respect very much and their articles are worth reading, as are the rather varied and sometimes heated responses in their comment sections.  Sinofsky even responded directly in the comments section of Heiny’s article, basically saying that he was reading too much into it.

I’m not going to rehash those articles or the responses (I do recommend going and reading through them) here as the discussions do go down an interesting path.  The one point I really want to comment on is that I worry that this reaction might be falling a bit into "boy who cried wolf" territory.  At their root, these articles responding to Sinofsky’s posting seemed to be keying off of a concern that the Tablet features may be deemed unnecessary and ultimately dropped from later versions of the OS.  The problem is that Sinofsky never even remotely hinted at that in his statements.  He wasn’t talking about features that can or should be cut from the OS and he never said that the Tablet features weren’t useful.  He simply, and rightfully, pointed out that usage scenarios vary and Windows should be flexible enough to adapt.

I think that evangelism of the value of Tablet PC features is something that is still needed, but I worry that the message can be blunted some by overreacting to what should be pretty much non-controversial statements.  This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen prominent members of the Tablet PC community go on the defensive like this and I tend to think this kind of thing is a lot less useful than articles that work hard to explain the value of the features.

Windows and Performance

August 31st, 2008

Microsoft recently launched a blog dedicated to the engineering of Windows 7, the current code-name designation for the next major release of the OS.  Earlier this week, they put up a post that introduced the team’s approach to performance, an issue that I believe to be a vital concern regarding the future of Windows.

For the most part, I don’t subscribe to the fairly harsh criticism that some have leveled at Windows Vista since its launch early last year.  I installed it both on my home desktop computer and my UMPC right after its public launch.  I have never given serious consideration to going back to Windows XP on my desktop system (which I have even upgraded to the 64-bit version of Vista) and even stuck it out on my under-powered TabletKiosk eo v7110 UMPC until I eventually upgraded to the must faster performing Vys S37.  I think the improvements in the overall user interface and feature set (particularly when it comes to Tablet PC functionality) do make Vista a worthwhile upgrade.

That said, I do also very much feel that the overall performance of the operating system falls short of what it should be.  I don’t have any huge complaints about the performance on my pretty heavily souped-up desktop system, but it definitely is pretty sluggish on the Vye and I’m certainly well aware that it would be much snappier with XP and that I’m unquestionably making a choice to compromise performance for features.  On the old eo, it was really pushing the edges of tolerability and I suspect that I probably would have eventually gone back to XP had I not just upgraded altogether.

Most of the Microsoft blog post was a high-level overview of the key factors involved with performance optimization (memory, CPU, and disk utilization; start-up, shut-down, and stand-by/resume speeds, base systems, and disk footprint) and is a decent read if you aren’t already highly familiar with all these concepts.  I think the most interesting part of the post, though, was the following quote regarding the overall issue of feature trade-offs versus performance:

On the one hand, performance should be straight forward—use less, do less, have less. As long as you have less of everything performance should improve. At the extreme that is certainly the case. But as we have seen from the comments, one person’s must-have is another person’s must-not-have. We see this a lot with what some on have called “eye candy”—we get many requests to make the base user interface “more fun” with animations and graphics (“like those found on competing products”) while at the same time some say “get rid of graphics and go back to Windows 2000”. Windows is enormously flexible and provides many ways to tune the experience. We heard lots on this forum about providing specific versions of Windows customized for different audiences, while we also heard quite a bit about the need to reduce the number of versions of Windows.

I think that these are completely valid points, but I am left with some uncertainty about whether or not they are yet coming at this subject from quite the right perspective.

I do recognize that there are a lot of differences in individual needs, but I also hope that Microsoft remembers that Windows is, in fact, an operating system.  In the constant need to add lots of new features and capabilities to the system in order to justify both the upgrade charges and the promotional push behind major new releases, it does often feel like there is an attempt to bundle too many features that stray quite a bit away from the core role of an OS.  Photo galleries, music/video players, video editors, and other similar applications all are becoming pretty major components of Windows (as well as Mac OS and major Linux distributions) and I can’t help but feel this is all leading to a serious loss of focus.

The concern about the number of versions of Windows strikes me as a situation where the company frequently tries to apply a marketing solution to what should be a technical problem.  I absolutely agree that they need to reduce the number of versions of Windows.  In fact, I think there should only be two current versions of the OS: Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.  I think Vista has been hurt quite a bit by the confusion over all the different "editions" of Vista and which features are in which version.

For Windows 7, I think Microsoft’s goal should be to have only a single version of the OS that includes a robust system to allow the end user to easily add or remove features based on his/her needs and system capabilities.  The installer should do an on-the-fly hardware evaluation and identify a "best fit" feature set for any given system.  I also think they should spend some time carefully designing an installation wizard that would essentially interview the user to help determine a recommended configuration based on what features the user is likely to actually use.  It should also be easy to later add or remove features as the user’s needs change or as hardware is upgraded or removed.

Finally, I think they need to start backing away from the overall bundling concept.  I recognize that a lot of the reason for the various editions of Vista was to try to avoid the view that one is paying for unneeded features, such as Media Center for an office workstation or Remote Desktop for the typical non-networked home PC.  I simply think they picked the wrong approach.  What Microsoft needs to do is to recognize that the ubiquitously connected nature of PCs today makes an ala-carte solution for features such as these both feasible and probably preferable.  Basically, everyone should get the same core functionality and then should be allowed to pick and choose, and pay separately, for these types of add-on features. 

I really believe that Microsoft needs a bit of a shake-up in their overall focus and marketing approach for Windows if they are going to get past the shortcomings that seriously crippled the Vista launch.  While it was reassuring to read on their blog that performance issues are a key focus for the next version, I’m discouraged by the suggestions that they may not really be deviating much from the basically failed approach that they took with Vista.

Microsoft Updates Anti-Piracy System on Windows XP for Some Reason

August 27th, 2008

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a number of updates to the anti-piracy features of Windows XP Professional (as well as Tablet and Media Center editions).  They indicated that Windows XP Home was not included since it apparently isn’t pirated as often.

This announcement was made via a post to their Windows Genuine Advantage Blog, which described the updates in some detail.  In addition to some routine validation updates intended to detect more pirated keys, they also apparently made a number of more substantial changes to the user-experience on non-validated systems as well as some changes to make future updates more automatic.  The post summarized the reasons for the update as follows:

I’m excited about how this release balances our goals of providing a great experience to those who have genuine Windows and at the same time creating a compelling experience for those who have non-genuine copies to get genuine Windows.

The various items in this update seem that they might have made some sense as anti-piracy measures if they were part of the out-of-the-box product or included as part of a major service pack (such as the recently released Service Pack 3), but they seem like a colossal waste of effort as a basically optional update to a product that is officially discontinued at this time.

In all their paranoia about piracy, I really wonder if anyone at Microsoft actually did any analysis into the likely return on this investment.  Do they really believe that enough people will somehow have their minds changed about using pirated copies to generate enough additional income from new licenses to justify the cost of developing, testing, and deploying these updates?  This seems especially unlikely when the update is optional and, presumably, could probably be uninstalled (or at least defeated by reinstalling the pirated copy of the OS) if the new nag screens are too bothersome.

I’ve worked in the software industry long enough to know that piracy is a real concern and I do understand why company’s like Microsoft keep looking for better ways to deal with it.  I do also think that many companies get seriously carried away in that effort.  Microsoft’s current operating systems (and other software) have enough problems that it really seems that there should be far more important tasks for their developers to be focusing on than this.

My Inventory of Computer Equipment

August 26th, 2008

I figure this is a good time to give an inventory of my home computer equipment.  I’m only listing personal stuff here, not my work computers.  I’m also only listing the items that are in active use currently.  We have quite a bit of older equipment in closets or on shelves around here as well.

1. Home-built Desktop PC: I haven’t purchased a desktop computer for over 10-years.  Instead, I build my own system from individual parts, occasionally upgrading when the pricing and my needs dictate.  My current system has an Intel 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 3GB of memory, 1.5TB of hard disk space (spread across 4 drives), NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS video card, and a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi sound card.  The OS is Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit.

2. Vye S37: This is my every-day laptop.  It is a mini-tablet UMPC with a 7-inch touch-screen, a nearly full-sized keyboard, 250GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM.  It is running Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit.  I’ve written several previous articles about this device on the previous version of this blog.

3. Apple MacBook: This is primarily my wife’s laptop computer, although I do use it occasionally as well.  This is the newest computer in our collection, having just purchased it a few weeks ago after the power supply died on her old HP laptop.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Mac OS, but we felt that it might fit my wife’s needs much better than Windows.  So far, she has been very happy with it.

4. HP EX470 MediaSmart Home Server: This unit is our primary backup and centralized file storage device.  We also use it as a media server.  This system runs Microsoft’s Windows Home Server OS and I have upgraded it from its stock configuration of 500GB hard disk space and 256MB of RAM to 2.25TB of hard disk storage and 2GB of RAM.

5. Palm Treo 700P (Sprint): My current cell-phone/PDA is the latest in a series of Palm OS devices that I have owned.  I am nearing the end of my current contract with Sprint and will be eligible for the best upgrade rates on a new phone starting September 1.  I’m starting to evaluate options for new phones (a topic for another article) and probably am ready to finally move away from the Palm OS.

6. Sony Playstation 3: Although I do use the PS3 for some game playing, it was actually purchased primarily because it is generally the best currently available choice for a Blu-Ray video player.  The PS3 is located in the upstairs bedroom and is also used to stream music up there from the home server.

7. HP OfficeJet 7410: This is an "all-in-one" color ink-jet printer that also works as a scanner, copier, and fax machine.  A big motivator for purchasing this particular printer was that it has built-in wi-fi networking.  That let us put the printer up in the bedroom (out of easy reach of our preschooler) and still send print jobs to it from the desktop computer downstairs as well as from any of the laptops.  While it is now a somewhat older, discontinued model, it still works pretty well for us.

8. D-Link DIR-655: This router is the centralized networking device for our home network.  It is a fairly new wireless router that includes draft 802.11n high-speed networking.  The desktop PC and home server are both directly connected to the router, while the laptops, PS3, printer, and our DirecTV HD-DVR are all set up to connect to it wirelessly.  The router is connected to a DSL modem with service from DSL Extreme with 6000/768Kbps download/upload speeds.