December 29, 2009
Part 2: Top 10 Tech Losers for 2009
by: Bryan Lambert – December 27, 2009
Everyone on the Tech Tips Team would like to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season in the company of family and friends –
Part 2: Top 10 Tech Losers for 2009
by: Bryan Lambert – December 27, 2009
Everyone on the Tech Tips Team would like to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season in the company of family and friends –
Part 1: Top 10 Tech Winners for 2009
by: Byan Lambert – December 20, 2009
Over the next two weeks, Tech Tips is going to take a trip down memory lane. We are going to wax nostalgic over the year 2009 and take a look at some of the top and bottom Tech for the year. Some will be product specific while others will be things that really caught fire or kind of fizzed out like a wet sparkler during the year. Of course we filter them through our special Geek “thick as a Coke bottle” glasses.
In this week's installment,we present the Top 10 Tech Winners for 2009, so without further ado we give you the WINNERS' CIRCLE!
10) HDTV is king… officially!… finally!
Adios analog TV, we hardly knew thee. Or did we? 60+ years of the same old NTSC (in the States anyway) standard and it was time to pull the plug. In June of 2009 analog TV was pulled off life-support and HDTV officially now rules the roost! The King is dead, long live the King!
9) Video Streaming is here to stay
Remember when just seeing video on a Desktop PC was a novelty? Or when video that was streamed over the internet kind of looked really bad? Or when watching your favorite episode of “CSI:Miami” meant checking the TV Guide? How about fuzzy YouTube videos of WKRP cut into three segments? Now with sites such as Hulu, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX (and a TON of others) all offer free, ad paid content just a click away – or Netflix offering commercial-free video streaming as part of their Unlimited Plans (even without a PC) video streaming quickly showed us in 2009 that it is a technology that is here to stay.
8) All Android! All The Time!
It seems like only yesterday that the first Android phone was released (ok, it was late 2008 – so that was practically yesterday) and now in 2009, especially towards the latter-half it seems like it’s All Android! All The Time! Android, the Google Operating System developed for smartphones has had a sharp rise in users and phones in 2009 and all predictions are that it will soon be one of the dominant operating systems offered (pushing rivals Apple and BlackBerry out of the way).
7) Apple iPhone 3GS
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Apple keeps rolling with it's iPhone line. They may not be the best phone or be paired with the best carrier – but it has a lot of marketing clout and users behind it. A smartphone for the masses that not only looks good, but is fun and cool generic viagra price at the same time.
Part of the Microsoft double entry into the top spot for this year, Microsoft’s Bing is the Anti-Google – not only does it give you hits that work but it gives you hits that are relevant. Oh, and it’s fun to use!
5) Social Networking Hits High Volume
OK, you know that Social Networking just had to be in the top ten for 2009, especially when your grandmother tweets you to check out how she’s doing on FarmVille. Really, now social networking sites are hitting our phones as well as our laptops – when will the madness stop?!
4) Oh My Goodness! Cheap Netbooks are EVERYWHERE!
What started out as a cheap looking laptop “wannabe” using a processor that was designed for the 3rd world (and MIDs) has quickly become a phenomenon. In 2009 we’ve seen Netbooks absolutely explode (figuratively) and their popularity has seen no signs of waning. Pretty good for a product whose segment didn’t even exist a few short years ago.
3) Blu-ray players having a break-out year
Remember the olden days of the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray “battle”? Did you blink? It was over before it really began – no protracted Beta vs. VHS battle here – Blu-Ray won and people stayed away from it in droves. Expensive players + expensive movies + expensive TVs + firmware updates every other day just to watch movies (maybe I exaggerate… a little) = peoples staying with DVDs. That was 2006, now fast-forward to 2009. Cheap Blu-Ray Players (new players advertised as little as $78 – yikes!) + cheap(er) movies + much cheaper and better HDTVs (really, why bother with 720p anymore when 1080p are so inexpensive compared to when they first came out) + BD-Live + Netflix streaming = a HUGE surge in popularity. OK, BD-Live units cost more, and those with Netflix streaming even more – but no where near the price tags seen when they came out a scant 3 years ago.
2) eBook readers coming of age
eBook readers are not really that new of a technology, they have been the social wallflowers of tech for a long, long time – and some years they miss the party all together. They just seemed to never get off the ground (kind of like Tablet PCs) but what the lowly Kindle started in 2007 has become an eBook tsuami in 2009. Not only are they easy to use, but with book giants Amazon and Barnes & Noble (eventually) strongly backing them, it seems that the eBook reader is an idea that has finally come of age in 2009.
1) Windows 7
Who would have thought that something good could come out of Microsoft not once but TWICE in the same year. Windows 7 seemed to do everything that Vista didn’t. It works, it’s stable, it has drivers for the stuff that’s out there and the UAC (User Account Control) is scaled back. Way to go Microsoft – this earns you our coveted number ONE SPOT in this year's list of Tech Winners.
– Green Tech – Starting as a swell now, but it may take a couple of years to really catch on
Opera: The Forgotten Browser
by: Scott Nesbitt – December 13, 2009
In June, 2009 the folks at Google conducted an interesting experiment. They asked a bunch of people in Times Square the question What is a Web browser? Only 8% of the people asked knew what a browser was. Luckily, most (if not all) of the people reading the TechTips in this space know what a browser is …
In fact, I'm willing to bet that you know names like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and maybe even Chrome. But one browser that's often forgotten or ignored is Opera. Which is unfortunate. Why? Opera has lot to offer as a browser. It packs features and functions that can compete with those of the better-known browsers on the Web.
Let's get acquainted (or, in some cases, reacquainted) with this nifty browser.
A little history
Opera started life in the mid-1990s not as a full-blown product, but as an internal project at Telenor (the largest telecommunications firm in Norway). The main developers tweaked the browser, then got permission from Telenor to release Opera as a commercial product. Which they did with Opera 2.0 in 1996. The browser was shareware, which let you try it before you bought it.
At that time, the browser was very simple. It lacked the features of the then-dominant Web browser: Netscape and Internet Explorer. But what Opera lacked in features, it more than made up for in speed. The feature gap, too, narrowed with each release of Opera. Even though the number of features it supported grew, the size of the browser didn't grow out of control. In fact, the download for the latest release of Opera (version 10 at the time this TechTip was written) is only about 10 MB.
As mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, Opera started life as shareware. Eventually, it became a free ad-supported browser. The ads were finally dropped in 2005; the browser is now supported through revenue earned from Google.
If you're interested, the folks at Opera Software have put together a time line of the browser's development, which you can view here.
What makes Opera special?
Opera isn't just another browser. If it was, it would have faded into the annals of abandonware a long time ago. A number of factors make the browser special.
First up, it's fast. Overall, it's always been faster than Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Firefox. As far as speed goes, Opera is only surpassed by Google Chrome. And while Firefox and Safari have caught up to Opera in some aspects of speed, Opera still has a bit of an edge.
Next, Opera has always been innovative. It's often on the cutting edge, with many features that other browsers later adopted. Opera was one of the first browsers to support Cascading Style Sheets (used to add formatting to Web pages). And it helped introduce the tabbed interface and popup blocking, which are standard features of most modern Web browsers.
This is what it's all about: the nifty features that Opera packs. And there are more than a couple that are worth a look.
Let's start off with Opera's built-in email client. Instead of having to jump out to another email client or log into a Web-based account, you can set Opera up to access one or more email accounts. The client has good spam filters, searching, and mail management functions. It also lets you read and write emails while you're offline and will automatically synchronize them with your accounts once you're connected to the Internet.
Firefox is famous for its extensions. Opera's no slouch in that area either, with its widgets. Widgets are small programs that add features and functions to the browser. There are 16 categories of widgets, and hundreds of individual ones. They range from unit converts to news readers to tools for Web developers and widgets for accessing social media sites. And a whole lot more. I have to admit that I have no use for most Opera widgets, but some are quite useful.
When you think presentation slides, you think PowerPoint. But who needs PowerPoint when you have a Web browser? Opera has a neat function called Opera Show that lets you create slides in HTML and use the browser to view them. Depending on your ability to code using HTML and CSS, your slides don't need to be barebones, quick and dirty. They can be quite visually rich. And what if you don't know HTML and CSS? Opera Software has an online slide generator that's easy to use.
Bookmarks are OK, but sometimes you want to get to your favorite Web sites a bit faster. You can do that with Speed Dial. Speed Dial allows you to put up to 25 links to Web sites on a new tab. The links appear as thumbnail images. You can add those sites from your bookmarks, your browsing history, or by typing a URL. And Speed Dial is there whenever you open a new tab. If you don't find it useful, the you can choose to
No matter how good your Internet connection is, sometimes things just bog down. Maybe not to dial-up speeds, but slow enough to be annoying. Instead of making a cup of coffee while you wait for a page to load, you can turn on Turbo instead. Turbo detects a slow connection and does a bit of magic that reduces the amount of information that's flowing to the browser – for example, only loading enough of an image to view it. While images may be fuzzy and other multimedia might be slow, the page will load. Turbo is turned on by default. You can change the settings by clicking the Turbo icon in the bottom left of the Opera window.
Finally, there's Opera Unite. This is a new feature that turns Opera into a Web server. You can use Opera Unite to share files and photos, as well as stream music and host Web pages. Opera Unite can do a lot more, too – you can view a list of Opera Unite applications here.
Note: An upcoming TechTip will look at Opera Unite in more detail.
While Opera hasn't made a huge dent in terms of market share on desktop computers or laptop computers, it's made some great in-roads on smartphones. Opera Mini is arguably one of the top two mobile browsers out there. It's definitely one of the most capable.
Opera Mini 5, which is the latest release, is light and fast. But it's not one of those mobile apps that tries to shoehorn a desktop interface into a small space. The interface is compact, but not cluttered. And it's easy to use.
Opera Mobile on the other hand, is a more beefed up version of Opera Mini designed for Nokia and Windows Mobile phones. It packs some of the main features of the desktop version of Opera – like generic viagra pills multimedia support, a tabbed interface and speed dial. The interface is similar to that of Opera Mini 5. And like Opera Mini 5, Opera Mobile is easy to use.
Too often, the Opera Web browser is overlooked. Unfairly, in my opinion. It's a solid browser that can do most of what its competitors can and which comes in a tight package. If you haven't tried Opera out, give it a look. If you've used it in the past and moved on, give it another try. Chances are you'll find more than one thing to like about it.
Netflix Streaming Video – What’s it all about?
by: Bryan Lambert – December 06, 2009
If you’re a high speed internet user, then no doubt you’ve seen the explosion of ways that you are able to instantly watch movies and television programs legally on your computer. In fact, it may have already changed the way you have traditionally thought about getting entertainment into your home. In this week's Tech Tip we’ll look at Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” streaming video and see what it is all about. No doubt with this new digital landscape, you may be looking at that monthly cable bill and wondering if you could pare it back a bit – or maybe that big collection of DVDs taking up space in the entertainment center and thinking you could sell a few off. Whether it’s the Hulus of the world, the neighborhood Redbox rental kiosk in your supermarket or your Netflix subscription that is responsible for the change; you can see that change is coming. It’s now easier than ever to get the entertainment you want, when you want it and on your terms.
Instant Viewing – Streaming with a Twist
If you are not a Netflix subscriber or maybe have tried them out in the past (let’s face it, they do advertise incessantly and they give away A LOT of free trial subscriptions) you may think of them just as “that place that mails you DVDs.” But if you are a current subscriber or have heard any media reports in the last year and a half, then you know that Netflix has also introduced a service called “Watch Instantly.” With Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature you actually have access to a big chunk of the titles (about 17,000 of the 100,000) that they offer that you can instantly stream to your desktop PC or notebook computer; bonus if you have a nice large computer monitor! Even if you subscribe to their most basic unlimited plan (one DVD mailed out to you at a time) then along with the DVD subscription you also have right to unlimited streaming video – with no commercials and no trailers at no extra charge.
But Netflix did one better – they added a twist – because not only can you watch the streaming videos on your PC, but if you have a Netflix Ready Device, you can watch it directly on your TV with no PC needed (you still need Internet). True, if your PC has an HDMI port out, you can just plug that into most TVs and watch the streaming videos that way – but with a Netflix Ready Device, you don’t have the hassle of carting your laptop over, getting it all ready (being sure that the HDMI audio out is set; being sure that you set your power management to NOT put the computer to sleep when generic viagra pharmacy you close the lid, etc.) You just plug it in and go. You can easily queue up programs and movies to watch instantly like you would DVD rentals and watch them on your schedule. Also, because the viewing is unlimited, you can watch the video again and again as well and stop, fast forward, rewind, etc.
So, what exactly is a Netflix Ready Device?
Well, an Xbox 360 is a Netflix Ready Device and as of November, 2009 a PlayStation 3 is one as well (as of now, you’ll need to get a free disc from Netflix to set up the PlayStation 3). Also many Blu-Ray players, TiVo DVRs, some HDTVs and even devices made specifically for this purpose (such as the Roku digital video player) are available to use as Netflix Streaming Devices. Netflix is not sitting on their laurels either – they have big plans to expand this service even further – as they say, stay tuned for details (a current, complete list of Netflix Ready Devices can be found on the Netflix website).
There are some drawbacks to the Watch Instantly program however. One big one is that not all studios have signed onboard (which is why not all titles are available) as they feel that this may eat into the video rental and video purchasing side of things. Also, most new releases are usually not available for some time and, as with most streaming technology, the video quality may be lacking (though many of the titles are very good quality – if you’re looking for Hi-Def then you still need Blu-Ray). Obviously, you also do not own the video, so if you cancel your subscription you no longer have access to the media (since it is streaming and not available for copying and storing). In addition to this, the devices that are Netflix Streaming Devices will have an up-front cost of purchasing them as well (which is why some may just opt for the cheap laptop with a HDMI cable option). But even with these drawbacks, the Netflix Watch Instantly service is hard to beat.
The way we watch movies, like many other things in the digital age, has changed rapidly and continues to morph. These changes are often for the better however, giving the consumer more choice, greater flexibility and more power in an ever changing landscape. Netflix Watch Instantly video streaming service is just one of many exciting new services available to the consumer to bring the digital fun home.
5 Fantastic Gift Ideas for the Gadget Lover on Your List
by: Scott Nesbit – November 29, 2009
It's that time of year again. The Christmas shopping season is upon us and many of us are making lists and checking them twice. And we're sure that more than a few people have at least one gadget lover on their Christmas lists. But with all the choices available, what do you get your gadget-loving geek? Here are a few suggestions. The gadgets highlighted in this TechTip are a bit higher end and a little pricey, but they're definitely worth it.
Everyone seems to be talking about cloud computing. For many, the biggest drawback is that you're putting data in the hands of others. When you can't get to that data – either because a site is down or the company goes out of business – then you're in trouble. But what if you could create your own computing cloud?
That's what TonidoPlug promises. It's a small, low-power home server that you plug into your home wired router or wireless router. Just connect some USB flash storage to the device, do some simple configuration, and you're ready to go. TonidoPlug is more than just a place to dump your files. It's a real server that comes with several applications like a file share, a blog, a personal information manager, a jukebox, and a personal torrent server. And it's all accessible using a Web browser over a secure connection.
A TonidoPlug costs $99. But many people pay that much to use several Web-based services. And since it's your server, you're taking back control of your data.
Note: An upcoming TechTip will cover the TonidoPlug in more detail.
The WikiReader is a great gift for the gadget lover who is looking for something a little different. It's not only a useful tool for research and reference, it's an addictive little device. When you're bored or just need to kill a few minutes, you'll find yourself flipping through the entries on the WikiReader and actually learning something.
Some will balk at the WikiReader's $99 price tag, but that hasn't stopped its maker from selling quite a few units.
RedFly Mobile Companion
Back in the day when PDAs were a hot commodity, people were using them as more than personal information managers. The devices actually became portable workstations. Of course, typing a memo or working in a spreadsheet was tough to do with a stylus. So, a few enterprising companies marketed portable keyboards just for that purpose.
Since the advent of the smartphone, though, the PDA has gone out of vogue. But guess what? People are using smartphones in the same way that they used PDAs. While you can get Bluetooth keyboards, the screen for the average smartphone is quite small. If you use a Blackberry or Windows Mobile device, the Redfly Mobile Companion not only gives you a keyboard but also a larger screen for your smartphone.
The RedFly Mobile Companion looks like a discount netbook. You get a small but comfortable keyboard and a seven or eight inch screen (depending on the model). But, as the product's Web site points out, it's not a computer. It's more or less a generic viagra overnight title=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_terminal”>dumb terminal that you hook a smartphone into – either with a USB cable or via Bluetooth. The RedFly Mobile Companion is more of a convenience and productivity tool than anything else – it gives you easier access to the applications on your smartphone.
Of course, that convenience comes at a price. The seven inch model costs $199, and the eight-inch model will set you back $249.
We discussed flip cams in detail a few TechTips ago. A digital camcorder that records very good quality video and that fits in your pocket makes a great gift for your gadget-loving geek.
The good thing about these devices is that you're not just limited to the original anymore, although there's nothing wrong with it. More and more companies are putting out these devices, including Memorex, Creative, Kodak, and others.
Most of the newer flip cams have the same specs, more or less, and most of them can record high-definition video. What you'll be paying for is the name or for some frills.
The great thing about flip cams is that you're getting useful and flexible device for under $200. If you do a little hunting, you can find a good one for under $100.
Something that's become popular, thanks to sites like Hulu and YouTube, is video and actual TV shows streamed from the Internet to a PC. But who wants to watch their favorite shows on their desktop computer or laptop computer? We sure don't. Why not watch the shows from those sites on your full-sized television instead?
It used to be that you needed a bunch of cables, the right kind of video card, and a bit of luck to connect your computer to your television. The Myka ION does away with all that. It's a little box that streams video from the Internet on to your TV. Not just the fuzzy, sometimes jerky video you see on YouTube, either.
The Myka ION is a small computer. A wireless connection downloads video to the Ion's hard drive, and the on-board software plays it back. Not only does the Ion have support for Hulu, it also can get videos from Netflix and a service called EzTakes. If you own a flip cam, you can hook it into the Ion and play back your videos too.
The Ion is pricey, though: about $379. If you want to add more features, like a bigger hard drive or more memory, expect to pay a little more.
HP DreamScreen 100
Anyone remember Internet appliances? Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these devices were supposed to revolutionize the way in which we used the Web. That didn't happen. But some of the ideas that were incorporated into Internet appliances have been taken a few steps further with a nifty device called the HP DreamScreen 100.
The $249 DreamScreen is something of a cross between an Internet tablet, a digital picture frame, an Internet radio receiver, and a video player. All in a package that measures 10 inches across and can be put practically anywhere.
The device can stream music, photos, and video from a PC or off a flash drive or a memory card. You can also get streaming music from the popular site Pandora. On top of that, the DreamScreen also enables you to access your FaceBook account. The interface is controlled either with a simple remote control or the device's touchscreen. Everything is easy to use and is quite user friendly. You can also get weather forecasts and can use the DreamScreen as a world clock or an alarm clock that lets you choose the music you want to wake up to.