MacGyver Phone?

The iPhone has been much lauded as both a savior and a plague. It both fulfilled and crushed hopes. It spoke of style and yet lacked substance in several places. But regardless of your feelings about this device, you have to admit that Steve Jobs definitely got everyone’s attention trained on Apple’s little morsel of electronic goodness. On the other end of the spectrum, in more ways than one, is a little company called HTC. They make Windows Mobile smartphones. One of their most popular, the TyTN has been a boon to the Microsoft collective. HTC does to Windows Mobile what Apple does to style…they kick it up a notch. And now it looks like HTC is about to do it again with their TyTN II (also known as the P4550 and the Kaiser).

Several people running tech sites have gotten models to review and the news is good. With twice the RAM and ROM of the predecessor, built-in GPS, and a tilt up screen when in landscape mode…it seems HTC has decided to bring some game. Rumors currently (as we haven’t seen official releases from companies) say we should see the AT&T Tilt (possibly the AT&T 8925) in about a week. There is also a possibility that there will be two models, one with a front camera for video conferencing and one without. This will, of course, change the cost of the phone. Pricing should be in line with what the current AT&T 8525 debuted at.

Now this phone isn’t the alternative to the iPhone if you like form over function. Love it or hate it, the iPhone is heavy on the sleek and stylish looks. The TyTN II is a little bulkier and less refined. But can you open your Office 2007 documents on an iPhone? Yes, the TyTN II comes with Office 2007 support. This is great because as businesses move to the new version and inevitably send files out in the new format…mobile workers will still be able to see and edit what is sent to them.

Which brings us to one of the real differences between the two products. People that need to get work done are the ones most likely to pick up the TyTN II. Less business oriented users will probably gravitate to the iPhone. Now I’ve had my hands on the original TyTN and on an iPhone. While the majority of my cellular use is personal, I’d much rather have the TyTN II in my possession. I have more use for a phone with Office capabilities than a phone with a novel interface. Especially since most of the actual iPhone functionality is available on the TyTN II. Instead of iPod mode, you can use Windows Media Player. Instead of using IMAP or POP to get Exchange email, just use Pocket Outlook. Best of all…the TyTN II has MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM from the factory.

I was one of the many buying into the iPhone hype, albeit a little skeptically (after all, who actually believes all of the marketing hype these days?). As time has begun revealing its inadequacies, I find myself more and more drawn to this new option that offers all I wanted from the iPhone and most of what I wanted beyond the iPhone.

UPDATE: It looks like HTC has changed their homepage to include a large banner for the TyTN II. I think we can safely assume that it’s official. The TyTN II is here and the carriers should have them in our grubby little hands within weeks. Now…if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can find a way to get the upgrade price before my upgrade eligibility in October.

New Vista Patches

According to this article at, Microsoft has finally released a couple of patches to address performance and compatibility issues. The biggest issues addressed by the performance patch in my opinion would be:

When you copy or move a large file, the “estimated time remaining” takes a long time to be calculated and displayed.
After you resume the computer from hibernation, it takes a long time to display the logon screen.

As for the compatibility patch? Only one item jumps out at me (probably because I experience this all the time):

The Printer Spooler service stops unexpectedly.

These are listed as KB938979 and KB938194 on Microsoft’s website. With any luck, they will be included in Patch Tuesday’s release. I like Vista. I like it a lot. But it still has a way to go before it becomes the true successor to XP. There is simply no excuse for some things, like the amount of time it takes to unzip a file. I’ve tried several experiments to attempt to solve my performance problems with zips. They all had the same result. My Packard-Bell 486SX/25 unzipped files faster. So kudos to Microsoft for working on the issues and here’s hoping they get the rest of these performance lags fixed soon.

Into Ubuntu

Over the years I’ve run a number of Linux distros and I’ve watched them evolve. For the last couple of years, I’ve been purely Microsoft on my home computers. When that errant nvraid driver update killed Vista (and I still can’t find my install CD and license key), I decided it was time to see what has changed in the OSS landscape.

So after managing to get my data away from the RAIDed disks, I fired up the system with a freshly burned copy of Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). It proceeded to load a LiveCD version using Gnome as the GUI. The boot was pretty quick and the hardware detection worked wonderfully (with one exception, covered later in this article). I was presented with a plain desktop that had everything you would want to see for a basic home user: web browser, email reader, OpenOffice, and a way to browse files. Sure there is more than that, but these are the things that most people are going to be looking for right off the bat. Music players and games and video editors usually come in second to these staples.

The only icon on the desktop is one labeled Install. So I open it. Thus begins a simple 7-step wizard, most of which can be ignored unless you want to use a language other than English. There is nothing complex about the information asked for and the partition tool has a fully automatic option which I imagine most Joe Suburban users would pick. If you can click a radio button and type a user name and password, you can install this system.

After you’ve completed the wizard, you just sit back for about 15-20 minutes and click Finish. The software unloads itself, ejects the CD, then requests that you press Enter to reboot. That’s it. No compiling. No editing .config files. No choosing kernel options. You reboot into the fully functional Ubuntu system. From here you can either start using it as your everyday OS or you can jump into the Add/Remove option under Applications and install some new software. I would suggest at least adding the Restricted Use package, otherwise you’ll find some irritating deficiencies such as no MP3 playback. I understand the necessity for the separation and the reason it isn’t part of the base install…lawyers…but I would like to see future releases mention this a little better up front. I managed to find the fix pretty easily with the power of Google.

Of course, with any system there are bound to be some problems. Mine was the Creative X-fi Platinum sound card. This card is completely different from previous cards. In other words, the Linux sound systems (ALSA and OSS) cannot use the device. Creative has yet to offer any technical information to open-source developers so they can write drivers. They claim there will be a closed source driver out this year in beta for Linux, but the release has already been pushed back once so I won’t hold my breath. Fortunately, I have AC’97 audio built into the motherboard, so I just turned it on and voila…I have music.

Now, why would anyone want to get out of Windows and jump over to Ubuntu or another Linux distribution? That answer will vary from person to person. Me? I like a number of applications that would cost me hundreds, probably thousands, of dollars under Windows but cost nothing but the time to download and install under Linux. One of my personal favorites is Bluetooth OBEX support through the file manager. It’s nice to open the equivalent of My Computer and browse over to my RAZR to copy photos, ringtones, wallpapers back and forth with a simple drag-and-drop. Or how about using GTKPod to update my iPod since I can move files both ways? Granted, you lose the iTunes store ability…but I only bought one song and that was the result of a free song on a bottle cap from one of my Dews.

Software updates work much like Windows Automatic Updates. You get a notification in the panel equivalent of the System Tray (next to the clock). You click on it. You tell it to install the updates. Done. Yes, there is the occasional update that will ask for a reboot, such as kernel updates. But by and large, most updates will take place on the fly with no restart necessary. This is one of the joys of a modular system. If the module is updated, just reload the module into memory.

I have to admit that a large part of my decision to jump over to Linux for a while is Beryl/Compiz Fusion. I like eye candy, especially if some of it actually makes work easier. So I’ve been playing with Beryl and the Emerald theme manager and I have to say that the cube is fun even though I usually flip between desktops with the scroll wheel or keyboard shortcut. Regardless, I give kudos to the developers for putting some truly useful and time-saving modules into this package. I’d forgotten what a wonderful thing it is to have multiple desktops when you’re used to running 8-15 apps at a time.

So far, I have nothing but praise for what the people over at Ubuntu have done for the OSS community. With just a little more polish in spots like driver support (from anal-retentive hardware manufacturers), I would say that Linux has finally gotten ready to enter the true desktop market for the masses. Yes, I know…a lot of geeks have been running Linux as a desktop for years…but I’m referring to Joe Suburban and his grandmother. Until there is acceptance from the not-tech-savvy, Linux will never be a player in the home desktop area.

Windows Home Server RTM

According to Qblogger over at the official Windows Home Server Blog, the code has been finalized and released to manufacturing. I tested the software on and off throughout the beta and it’s an overall well designed product. I’ve seen a few people complaining about it lacking certain features, but they seem to forget what the purpose of this device is. This is a media sharing and desktop system backup solution. It’s a server for suburbian families that have lots of music and photos they want the kids to be able to get to easily. It’s a desktop backup system that is simple to use so any important information on any system in the home is protected from hardware/software failure.

This product is not a corporate or professional level server. It isn’t meant to run Exchange or SQL or host your blog. If you want these things, go buy Windows Server 2003 Small Business Server or build a Linux box. However, if what you’re looking for is a system to backup the important files on your home computers and share your media from a central, always-on location … then this is a good choice. It integrates almost seamlessly with XP and Vista (at least from my experience) and does a good job at the tasks it was designed for. As a matter of fact, the only problem I had was that I didn’t setup my main Vista system to backup before I toasted it with an errant RAID driver upgrade. (My main system has about 200GB more storage than the box I used for the Home Server.) Oh well, live and learn.


(that’s Yet Another iPhone Blog Post…like we have a shortage of them)

Having played with one in the AT&T store right down the road, I can say that I wish I had the money to drop on the little morsel of technological geek candy. Sadly, Apple has opted to make it stylish only for those who have large salaries and almost no expenses. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but there’s no way I can just up and drop $500 on a phone…much less $600 for one with more storage. Add to that the higher monthly expense since the iPhone plans all need the unlimited data pack and you’ve got yourself a second mortgage.

Despite Apple’s extortionist ways and AT&T’s mafia-like control, I want one. I watched the Apple iMarketing machine with new iHype generator and even drank the iKool-aid. The device is very cool. It even works mostly as advertised and that’s no mean feat in today’s market where it is all too common to be promised the moon and given a block of moldy cheese.

The interface is extremely intuitive and simple. I would expect nothing less from Apple. The touch screen capabilities are absolutely some of the best geek candy I’ve managed to experience in a long time. The overall design, while definitely sleek, is also easily functional. I can’t say whether or not that opinion will hold up after a long call, but my trips to the AT&T store to play with something far out of my price range have convinced me that at least for my short average phone calls, this thing would work just fine.

Add to all of that the iPod capabilities and you’ve got a potential long term revenue for the little brother of the technology world. That is, if the batteries hold and the few software glitches get fixed while AT&T tries to beef up their network to handle the extra load. Oh…and while you’re at it…how ’bout some 3G? After all, you don’t go out and get a brand new Porche and drop a Yugo 3 cylinder engine in it…