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Scott's Column
Tablet Revisited, Domain Name & Memory Issues

February 1, 2010 (Published Jan 25, 2010)
By Scott Lewis

This edition was supposed to go out on February 1. I wrote the piece about tablet computers because of the hype they were getting at CES. Well, a week after CES Apple issued an invitation for an event on Jan. 27. Many people expect this to be an  announcement for a tablet computer. So I published this on Jan 25th to give people a chance to read it before the Apple announcement.

Enjoy!

Current Topics:

The Tablet Revisited

Microsoft was pushing tablets at CES. I recently wrote about what I would like to see in an Apple Tablet. With this much tablet talk I assume Apple really will build a tablet. But Microsoft has had years to work out the kinks to a tablet.

Since my article on the Apple Tablet was somewhat anecdotal, I thought I should be more specific as well as more generic. More generic because Microsoft really deserves a chance to give the tablet market some traction (after all they don't build the hardware, but have done a lot on the software side), and Apple is going to do it sooner or later. Plus I want to cover some specifics that each of these can (and should, but may not) do to help get a tablet to be accepted.

Home Friendly - Any tablet platform must be reasonably affordable that people will buy them for home use. You cannot target this strictly toward businesses. This was Microsoft's biggest error. They saw the tablet as a vertical market device for niche business needs. Humbug! Granted, in the early days this was due to cost, but stripping out business features should help... and Moore's Law should make this less an issue today. If the price point is reasonable a lot of tech savvy early adopters will buy a tablet. By targeting businesses that require more features than a home user needs they drive up the cost so that a home user will not want to pay the premium for features they don't use. If necessary, have a premium product for businesses; but have a flexible, affordable version that the masses will want to use around the house.

Don't forget... the best thing for making this home friendly is to let it be a digital picture frame in a stand in the living room. This is where it would be when charging... since it will have batteries.

Multimedia - This is a given, but I thought I would point out a couple of items. For Apple this is easy, just plug into the iTunes Store with its music, movies, TV shows, etc. I still think Apple should create a very slick DVD ripping application that would tie their DRM into the files. This would make the movie studios happy, and would allow you to watch a ripped movie on any of your authorized computers for iTunes. You can provide the software for Mac computers, since the tablet will not have an optical drive, though an option for this to work with an external USB drive would be nice. Eventually this should lead to Blu-Ray drives in Mac and as external drives to the tablet. Windows based tablets have it harder. Windows based systems are leaving it to all the third party apps to handle this. That's is a mistake. If you make it part of the "system" it will be a much more attractive package. Microsoft can try to leverage its Zune Marketplace, but they have far less content than the iTunes Store. However, the Zune Marketplace already has a subscription service (Zune Pass) that allows you to download all the music you want. They just need to expand that to a price tier that includes TV shows & movie rentals.

Easy Keyboard & Mouse Option - I am not going to spend $1,000 (watch, Apple will charge very close to this much, but not less) for a tablet computer that I cannot easily attach a keyboard and mouse to. This keyboard and mouse option should also include a stand for the slate style tablet itself. I think Bluetooth would be best here. When you place the tablet in its stand the keyboard, mouse and tablet all detect each other and the mouse and keyboard just work. Now you have a respectable if slightly underpowered desktop computer. Walk off with the slate and it works seamlessly without the keyboard. This means you must have an on-screen keyboard when you are away from the physical keyboard. Of course, this is where you will most likely charge your tablet, so a docking station may be a premium option for those that want that convenience. A docking station would have to also offer extras like an external hard drive, DVD drive, etc.

Broadband Access - This is critical, and probably the biggest hurdle in my opinion. It's one thing to have WiFi access when you are at home and using the tablet in your hands while watching TV in the living room. It is quite another when you hit the road and want to check movie listings while parked outside the restaurant you just ate at. This means some kind of cellular broadband access. This also means money... in a monthly fee. I know I don't want to pay a monthly fee for a phone (or iPhone) and pay again for a tablet. They need to work something out where the tablet is on the same plan as your phone. This will make it more affordable and will allow the tablet to really take off. This could be solved with using your cell phone and its data plan as a tether to a tablet, but this is not an elegant solution so don't expect Apple to do it this way.

Applications - This would not be a topic if it was not for the massive success of the Apple Store and the 100,000+ applications it has. An Apple tablet will have to run these apps. Apple can easily solve this by allowing their tablet to run iPhone apps. Of course they need to allow more than one app to run at a time, and they need to run in a "window" (not full screen). A Microsoft tablet just needs to run any windows application. Microsoft should create a new development tool that allows easier development of the widgets that run under the Vista Sidebar. Windows 7 runs these applets without the actual sidebar running. I have tried to create some of these applications and the learning curve is a little steep. You want to create a development tool that makes is very easy for the casual programmer (or even just a power user) to write an applet that can run well on the tablet. The casual programmer may not want to run a copy of Visual Studio to do development. Microsoft should make a version of its Expression Blend tool that specifically builds applets that run on Windows 7 (Win 7 will be the OS of choice for a non-Apple tablet). Since Apple is heavily relying on games in its app store to push its tablet (just wait, you'll see) Microsoft needs to help game developers get simple games into those widgets to run on a tablet device. While they are at it Microsoft should make it easier to produce apps for the Zune HD... and let those apps run on a tablet as well. Microsoft should provide this development kit for free. Apple charges $99. That income level is ridiculous when compared to providing the tool for free which will have people building apps for your devices. If you build it... they will come. They need to make it super easy for people to build the apps.

A Real Computer - With the proliferation of Netbooks, people want real computers... even when they are cheap. A slate style tablet computer can fetch a bit of a premium (of course Apple's will fetch a lot of a premium), but it will only sell if it is also a real computer. It does not have to be a powerhouse, but it should run all the basics including an office applications, e-mail, etc. It must run graphics software. Think about this for a moment. You take your Tablet computer with you on vacation because you can check flight schedules, hotels, car rentals, etc. You can also use it as a GPS device (with the GPS antenna as an extra cost option... Tom Tom and Garmin will be all over this), and you can upload photos to it from your camera and do basic editing and send those photos out to friends and family easily through the broadband connection.

Stylus Support - Along with running regular applications the tablet will need to run graphic software for photo editing... i.e, Photoshop. The best way to do this is with support for a stylus, preferably a pressure sensitive stylus. Image graphic artists drawing right on the screen. This could be a premium priced option, and graphic types will eat it up. Don't let it get too expensive, but I can see many artists using a tablet for sketching rather than sketching on paper and scanning it into a computer for manipulation in Photoshop.

E-Reader - I almost want to leave this out. You could make a laptop an e-reader. You just need a decent application to display the text of a book, magazine, newspaper, etc. However, the industry is changing, and content is changing. You need to make reading periodical publications as well as books a priority on any slate style tablet device. I think the hardest part will be the screen. The current e-readers use a totally different technology than laptops, or even the iPhone. I think it will come down to how comfortable the user is reading for a couple of hours at a time on a slate style computer, vs. the current crop of e-readers. Of course once you do make it easy to read periodicals you need to leverage the broadband access above for subscriptions to those periodical. I am sure Apple is getting this subscription eco-system set before it releases the hardware. Microsoft should be doing the same... but they are not. This lack of forethought on Microsoft's part will be a major hurdle to overcome.

That's it. These are not crazy ideas, but they all need to be there to make this device work. Sure, you can add all the business stuff that companies want... at an extra cost. But if you want this to take off you have to target the gadget nerds of the world... the ones that stood in line for an iPhone. Those people do not want a business laptop with a swivel monitor. They want a simple device that they can use on the go... and put it in place on their desk at home and continue using it without thinking about it.

If you, er.. if Apple builds it they will come. Just remember, only Apple is allowed to charge over $1,000 for this device.

NOTE: I wrote all this during CES week. Shortly after CES Apple announced an event on Jan 27. Pretty much everyone expects there to be a tablet shown at this event. Will it be on sale later that day like new iPods are, or will this be an announcement to wet people's appetite for what is coming this summer? We will all find out on Jan 27. See you there.

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Domain Name with Dynamic IP Address

This story starts with needing to get a new wireless router. The short story (on the router) is that we got the kids a second XBox 360 for the upstairs game room that we have been making more kid friendly since I sold my pool table. I had one open port on my Linksys Wireless Router. Unfortunately it was not working. I would move other devices into that port and they would stop working. Since I needed all four ports (1st XBox 360, Desktop PC which shares media files, File & Print server & 2nd XBox 360) I picked up a Belkin Gigabit Wireless Router with a USB port for adding network storage.

When I switched the routers I got a new IP Address from my ISP. This impacts my web site which I run from my house using a service to update the IP Address that is assigned to my domain name. I could not connect to my own web site from within my house. I was concerned I did not setup the port forwarding correctly (something you need to do to direct traffic from the outside to a specific machine, in this case I forwarded port 80, the port for web sites, to my server to handle that traffic). There was some mention online that there is a special feature that allows/prevents accessing your own machine through the port forwarding. I waited until I got to work to try and access it from there.

Alas, I could not access my domain from work. I had e-mailed my new IP Address to myself at work and I tried that... and it worked. This means the translation between my domain name (www.ScottLewisOnline.com) and my new IP Address (66.25.92.110) was not working. I pinged my domain name and it showed the old IP Address.

Once back home I started trouble shooting it. I logged onto the FreeDNS web site (http://freedns.afraid.org/). They showed another IP Address all together. I use a small utility to update FreeDNS when my IP Address changes. I ran that and it said it updated, but clearly it did not. I tried to manually change it on their site, but it was still not taking it correctly.

I did notice that they said my site was "broken." On FreeDNS this means that the hosting service is not using FreeDNS's nameservers. This gets a little over my head. I initially deleted my domain from FreeDNS. Then I logged onto GoDaddy and entered my current IP Address. After a short while (maybe an hour, I was writing some of this and did not keep close track of time) I was able to get my correct address when I pinged my domian name. Strangely I got nothing but timeouts. I tried accessing my favorites page through the domain name and it worked. Then I remembered that the Belkin router had some option for allowing pings. I did not turn that on, so that expains why I saw the proper translation to my IP Address but got no actual response to the ping.

With all this I logged back onto GoDaddy and looked at the domain name maintenance screen. Sure enough there was a place to enter nameservers. Back to FreeDNS and I added my domain name back and it said I would have to wait until the nightly check to see if the nameservers was setup correctly. I placed all four of FreeDNS's nameservers into the four slots that GoDaddy provides.

The next day I logged back on the FreeDNS web site and looked around for the test to see if my site was broken. I found it and it truddled along for about 30 seconds and then told me all was good. I assume that the next time my IP Address changes the utility I am using to update FreeDNS will work. I may have to wait another year and a half... but at least it is free.

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Memory Problems

About the same time I was trying to setup an XBox 360 with wired Ethernet, my desktop started going crazy. I forget what I was doing, but I received a BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death). When the computer reboot it complained about my anti-virus software. I have seen issues like this before, so I thought I would just uninstall and reinstall the anti-virus software.

This is were things get crazy. The uninstall went fine. However I saw a lot of crap in the Control Panel applet that lists programs to uninstall. I figured this would be a good time to do some clean up. I ran Windows Defender and ran the Software Explorer tool. This shows what is starting up in the background and allows you to disable them. I disabled a few items (including all the software having to do with my TV Tuner card (I don't use it anymore, and the cable jack on the splitter in the attic was replaced by the new TV in the game room).

After blocking the apps from starting when the computer starts I reboot the computer. I got a BSOD while it was booting, and it started rebooting. When I did get it up and running I tried to reinstall the anti-virus software. It did a BSOD trying to install the anti-virus application. I tried again to install the Anti-virus software and it failed. I tried downloading the latest version of the anti-virus software and installed it. Again it failed. Out of desperation I downloaded Avast (a free anti-virus software I have heard good things about). Unfortunately it failed to install as well.

Time to get serious. I went back to the Uninstall Software applet and started removing as much junk as I could. I eventually had it all cleaned up and reboot. But I could still not install anti-virus software.

I started backing up my computer. I did a manual drag and drop operation for some of my bigger stuff (33 GB of music and such). In the morning it was still running so I set it to backup some other stuff.

When I got home I split my time between getting the XBox 360 hooked up with a HDMI cable that arrived in the mail. I ordered a 25 ft. cable to run behind the wall from the XBox to the wall mounted TV. With that all working and the Ethernet setup I watched some of The Incredible Hulk with my son in High Definition.

I opened the computer and vacuumed all the dust out of it and reset the memory. I had seen generic hardware errors and thought maybe the memory was flaking out or the computer was overheating due to poor air flow. Cleaning it out and reseating the memory worked for a little while. I was able to install the anti-virus software and ran it through its updates. Then I installed Ad-Aware to look for spyware... just in case. I started it and left to do other chores. I came back to a reboot computer... a BSOD must have happened while I was away.

I tried making a detailed list of the software on the PC that I needed and got a BSOD before I could even save the notepad file with the first 6-8 applications. Damn. When the computer came up I started running a batch file to backup my PC. The batch file (also know as a command file) has XCOPY commands for copying folders from my PC to the server. I use the XCOPY command with the switched to turn off the archive bit for files (the archive bit is turned on when a file is modified). This allows the XCopy command to restart where it left off and not copy files that were already backed up.

I got some things backed up, but not everything. By this time the computer was crashing repeatedly. Now it was asking for the Windows Vista install disc to try and repair Windows. I dug that out and let it repair Windows. It worked for a couple of minutes but kept crashing. At one of the reboot points I was asked if I wanted to run a memory diagnostic. I said yes, and it told me there were hardware errors. Since this was during a memory test I was more than ever inclined to believe it was bad memory. I even held my hand over the rear fan to feel how hot it might be running. It was blowing cool air out the back of the case.

So memory it must be. I was too tired and needed to get to sleep.

I was not able to backup everything. One thing I was worried about were my bookmarks in Firefox. I had organized them drastically a couple of months ago and never backed them up. At this point I suspect Windows is so corrupt that it might not repair, even if I replace the memory. Plus I had 3-4 GB of data still to backup, but that was on the D drive and probably wouldn't be an issue if I had to wipe the C drive. But it was nagging me anyway that I did not have a complete backup. Plus I did not have a backup for my son's files (about 1-2 GB, but all of it is his music and stuff for his iPod Touch).

I got up the next morning and turned the computer on. I got an error that my anti-virus software was not working and I told it to shut it down. At this point I only ran three applications. Notepad to edit the backup command file, Explorer to look at the folders to see what needed to be added to the command file... and the command file itself. Oh yea, I quickly ran Firefox and exported my Bookmarks to an HTML file.

I got everything backed up. I logged into my sons account and created a similar command file to backup his important (to an 11 year old) files. I got his all backed up.

I turned the computer off and went to work.

I picked up some memory at Best Buy. Hey, it was literally on my way home and yes... I spent about $30 more than I would have if I had ordered it on NewEgg.

I picked up the computer and placed it on my desk. Normally I unplug everything from the back of the computer, but I did that twice already, so I lifted it up with all the bundled wires (I tie wrapped them) still connected to the computer. I did unplug the power cord from the back of the PC.

I installed the new memory and turned the PC on. It hummed, but I did not remember hearing the beep (a single beep from the motherboard that it thinks everything is good). There was nothing on the monitor. Damn. I pulled the new memory out and installed one stick of the old memory (I had two sticks of old and two sticks of new). I powered it up and the Motherboard's screen showed on the monitor. I pulled the memory and plugged in one stick of the new memory into that same slot. Again I get the motherboard's boot screen. I shut it down and plug in the second stick on new memory. Power it up and the screen is good. Huh? As I picked up the PC the video cable falls out the back. Apparently it was not solidly connected and teh new memory was most likely working on the first try.

I power it down and put the panels on the PC and lower it behind my desk. Power it up and there is nothing on the screen. What? I look behind th PC and sure enough the act of lifting it up to lower it behind the desk unplugged the monitor's power cord. Plug that in and all was good. NOTE: Always check your cable connections.

The computer has been running perfectly ever since. I thought about putting Windows 7 on it, but I like how well it is setup at the moment that I don't think i want to mess with it just yet. After all I have two XBox 360s that connect to it for media, and I use this computer every day.

I am stalling on the Windows 7 install mainly because i hope to build a better computer in the not too distant future. We'll see.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. Next month I am going to continue my DSLR Camera investigation and determine which lenses to get. I will also review my current computer environment at home... because a change is on the way.

Stay tuned.

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