Friday, July 27, 2007

Nokia N95 beats iPhone in Test

The Nokia N95 smartphone recently beat Apple's iPhone in a head-to-head comparison test. The N95 is similar in concept, using the Safari browser, and it has a digital camera with three times the resolution. The one thing it lacks is hype. Despite all its features, that may be enough to keep it from seriously competing with the iPhone.

Thursday, July 26, 2007 Digs Microsoft

We have witnessed many interesting alignments and many interesting face-offs in the tech industry this year, highlighted last month by a shoving match between eBay and Google regarding Google's new payment web site, a competitor to eBay's PayPal service. EBay pulled their advertising from Google, but resumed relations after one week. Now has abandoned Google in favor of Microsoft. Digg had been using Google to display advertisements on their popular content sharing and social news web site, but decided to change to a platform from Microsoft, explaining that Microsoft offers a higher level of customization.

Though it may seem small, this is a much needed victory for Microsoft. As of late, they have witnessed their share of both the browser and office software market decline, and in addition to continued anti-trust battles with various governments around the world, they have been (in my opinion) hemorrhaging support among computer users due to their decision to pick a fight with Linux users by claiming that Linux and other open-source apps violate a number of their patents. Microsoft has been attempting for a while to gain a foothold in the online advertising arena, and with Digg's reported 17 million visitors per month, this should help them do that.

I do wonder how Diggnation co-host Alex Albrecht (an avid Mac user who probably would not be caught dead wearing a Microsoft t-shirt) feels about the deal.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Update on eBay San Dimas

On June 12th I wrote about the eBay San Dimas beta program and also noted I would write about the program again if I were to become a beta tester. I did in fact get a beta invitation a week or two ago, installed the program, but could not get it to work. Though I was logged in and had Internet connectivity, I could not get the program to do anything. Every option was grayed out and there was a red X over an icon which meant to me there was a problem somewhere. As time is not easy to come by around here, I tabled the program figuring I would get back to it and when I did, hopefully it would work. Well, I got back to it today, and there was an upgrade it told me I had to install, and after doing that everything worked fine. So onto my review...

San Dimas is basically a desktop gateway to the world of eBay. It presents users with a new interface through which they can search for and buy products, as well as save information about auctions they have viewed. It is nothing revolutionary, but it is a lot more "web 2.0" in appearance and interaction than eBay's actual web site. That being said, I ran the application on a dual processor machine running Windows XP with 2 GB of RAM installed and a 9 mbps pipeline, and the program was slooooow. It reminded me of when I had to navigate eBay while on the road earlier this year with only a dial-up connection available. Nothing like clicking on an option and then thinking about what you will do next while the page is loading. I don't know what is to blame- I did browse around eBay's site in between using San Dimas today to make sure it was not a problem with the Internet connection or my PC. I won't judge a beta on speed, but if the official release of this program is as sluggish as it is right now, it will be hard to get users (especially those on Vista, which is a memory hog itself) to want to use the program when using the eBay web site interface is much faster.

These were my initial reactions to the program. Despite its slowness I will attempt to utilize its features some more this coming weekend and report about it back here early next week.

Update on Safari for Windows

Apple released Safari 3.0.2 a short while ago, which was a version updated from the one we reviewed here back on June 17th.

I went ahead and installed the updated browser on a laptop, and the problem I reported in my first blog post in regards to not being able to access some secure areas of a web application was fixed. So far it seems I can use the browser to do my normal activities without issue. But I did notice one other thing that bothered me that I did not really pay much attention to in my first look at the program.

Apple uses their own font rendering algorithm inside the browser, so that if you are looking at text that is Arial 10pt, it will look different than the same size font in Internet Explorer or FireFox. Several tech web sites have done screenshot comparisons showing the difference of the text. I am not going to go into that much detail here but if you want to see some images, do a Google search for Safari font rendering. When I first used the browser back in June, I did notice the difference but figured it was just a setting that I could adjust. It was not until I took a further look while using Safari 3.0.2 that I found out that this way of displaying the text was built into the browser and could not be changed.

I have no problems with Apple having their own font rendering process. It is hard to say if their process is better than Microsoft's or not. Ask either company (or their respective fan bases) whose is better and it is not difficult to guess their answers. I do know that you cannot always judge a process based on first glance. Your eyes need time to adjust. When I first enabled Microsoft's ClearType in Windows XP a while back, I remember thinking the text had lost crispness and seemed too blurry. A colleague of mine encouraged me to leave it be for a week and then reevaluate, which I did. Since then I have always used ClearType and now when I am on a computer that does not have ClearType enabled, it looks too pixelated and light to me- I now prefer ClearType. So it is very possible that if I were to use Safari for a while, I would come to like the Apple font rendering. While I cannot at the moment conclude who has the better process, I can conclude that it is very annoying to my eye to be working in Safari with Apple's font rendering and then switch over to a Windows application where the same size fonts look quite different. When you work on a PC quite often, as I do, you need font consistency. Using Safari on Windows disrupts that consistency. I understand Apple wants to open up the world of "Apple greatness" to PC users (no sarcasm intended), if you will, but they really do need to build in an option to let users choose Windows font rendering for text. Though I like the speed of the Safari browser, I could never use it on a regular basis inside Windows due to this issue.

Back to School...

August is almost here, and many retailers (us included) have launched or are planning to launch back to school specials. In the computer industry you often see steep discounts on laptop and desktop computers. Often times these are loss leaders, designed to bring customers into the store where they will buy additional peripherals and software which have high margins. One allegedly "great" deal I read about online is the debut of a sub-$300 PC at Wal-Mart from Everex. The system does not have an Intel or AMD chip- instead it uses a 1.5 GHz chip from Via, called the C7-D. Instead of trialware (preinstalled software which commonly expires after 30, 60, or 90 days unless you pay retail price for it), this Everex machine comes with the open-source office software suite, a package which is dually compatible with its Microsoft counterpart (you can read and write to Microsoft Word and Excel files using It runs Windows Vista, but I have not been able to find out how much RAM comes with it- my guess from other budget systems I have seen is it will be 512MB, which is not sufficient to run Windows Vista comfortably.

Back to school deals are tempting, but if you already have a decent computer, buying one may not be much of an upgrade. As I mentioned, these systems usually have minimal RAM, which means you won't see the speed you'd expect from a brand new box. Having on this system is a great feature, but you can install it on your existing computer by downloading it free from the web site, or by buying it from a community distributor like us for just $3.00 including shipping.

I would recommend upgrading your own RAM, defragmenting your hard drive, and updating your software first- this would be cheaper than even a $300.00 PC upgrade. Spending a few dollars on peripherals is another great way to save. If your computer does not have built-in WIFI, we offer internal and external options for laptops and desktops starting at $9.99. I don't mean to throw in shameless plugs, but just want to demonstrate how much cheaper it may be to get new life out of your existing system.

If you do decide to buy a system from one of these back-to-school offers, if you believe the old adage about teaching a man to fish, you can save quite a bit of money by getting the base package from a PC maker and then upgrading on your own. For example, many PC makers offer several models of the same base PC at $100 to $120 intervals. Often times the only difference is the amount of RAM and maybe 0.2 GHz of processor speed. If you see a $499 system with a 1.4 GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, and the same system with the same chip running at 1.6 GHz along with 1GB of RAM for $619, it may be a good idea to go for the $499 system. You can get great RAM deals on eBay (but be sure to check your manual so you buy the correct type of RAM), 512MB upgrades for newer systems can be had for as little as $20-$30.00, which in the end would give you virtually the same system for $100.00 less.

At the end of the day, just ask yourself two questions. Does my system do what I need it to do, and would I be more productive if the machine was faster? If you answer yes and no respectively, you're good right where you are. If your answers are different, then decide on the cheapest path to achieving the answers you want. Will it be an upgrade to what you already have, or something new?