Dell Blowing Up in Japan

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When I saw the headline, I was happy. I am a shareholder and thought it meant blow up as in take off. You know, similar to bad like Shaft and all that.

As it turns out, it really blew up- as in exploded.

It seems that at some conference in Japan a Dell laptop suddenly exploded into flames. Granted, my Dell laptop sometimes feels like its on fire when sitting on my lap, but thus far I haven’t been able to cook over it.

I suspect a faulty battery was to blame.

This is not the first time Dells began to spontaneously combust.

But don’t look for another fire sale.

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Dell Holds the Junkware

Before I starting building my own, I was a big fan of Dell computers. I bought 4-5 computers and a laptop from Dell over the years. When I am asked (as I am often) by friends for computer recommendations, I still suggest Dell desktops (and Thinkpad laptops).

bloatwareOne annoyance with any new computer is all of the junkware they pre-install on it, likely in exchange for payment from the vendor who hopes against hope you will buy the full version of the crippled junkware version that comes pre-installed.

Dwight Silverman reports today that Dell has added an option to dispense with the junkware. This is great news, and if you buy a computer you should always select the “no preinstalled software” option, if available.

Windows, an anti-virus program and any Office products you buy will still be installed. But you won’t get a bunch of crippled bloatware and offers for ISP services you don’t want.

Kudos to Dell for doing this.

Dave Wallace on Tablet PC's

Dave Wallace (Dave the Lifekludger) takes a detailed look at a Sahara Tablet PC and details how it can be configured for use by people with disabilities. Dave is an IT Coordinator, podcaster and blogger, who happens to be a C4 quadriplegic.

Dave was able to configure his tablet to put a lot of computing power in a small space, as the photos comparing his regular computer and his Tablet PC will attest.

The handwriting (Dave uses a mouthstick) recognition application seems to work well for Dave. Actually, it works better for him that it does for me. He had less success with the voice recognition application- I’ve never had any success with voice recognition software and gave up trying a year or so ago. Voice recognition sounds great in theory. But I’ve never been able to make it work reliably.

All in all, the Tablet PC worked pretty well for Dave. As with anything, there are compromises to make (size vs screen space, etc.), but the Tablet PC was much more configurable disability-wise than I would have predicted.

In a Comment to Dave’s post, mobile guru James Kendrick mentions that there is a Sahara Tablet with a touch screen. That might be an even better solution.

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UMPC/Origami: Tablet PC Killer or Turbo-PDA?

Actually, neither. It proposes to fill the huge and likely profitable space between the two.

Rob Bushway has a interesting post today that raises questions, both about Tablet PCs as well as the effect of the forthcoming UMPC/Origami on the love affair between mobile technology users and their Tablet PCs.

A UMPC/Origami is an “ultra mobile PC” (thus the name UMPC) that is significantly smaller than a Tablet PC. It has a 7″ screen. Here is an FAQ with a little more information about them.

Rob points out that even though Tablet PCs are designed to be mobile and easy to take with you, a lot of people don’t carry them around any more than a traditional notebook. They are too big to be unobtrusive and some people have found the notetaking features less productive than they hoped.

I agree with both of those concerns. I use my Thinkpad X41 Tablet PC all the time, but as a laptop replacement, not something to carry around with me like a super-charged PDA. Sure, I use it around the house a little, when I want to be outside, but need to stay connected for some reason. But mostly I use it on business trips in lieu of a traditional laptop.

We have an old Fujitsu tablet (no keyboard) that we keep downstairs for people to check weather, email, etc. My wife loved the idea in concept and she used it a bit when I first set it up, but now it gathers dust as she thinks it’s too big and too slow (I agree with the first part, but I think she’s making the slow part up).

But the fact remains that there is a big space between the current Tablet PCs and a PDA. Tablets are too big to carry around unobtrusively and PDAs (sorry, even Treos) are too small to use regularly for computing and internet functions.

So what do I think about the UMPC/Origami? I think the devil will be in the details, but if it does what reports claim it will application and internet wise, I agree with Rob that the future of mobile computing may very well include a UMPC/Origami along with a traditional laptop or tablet PC.

I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t still have a Tablet PC, since I continue to believe that a Tablet PC will do everything a traditional laptop will do and more. But I can certainly envision UMPC/Origami taking a big role in the mobile technology space.

Fellow Houstonian James Kendrick provides a preview of how a UMPC/Origami might fit into your mobile technology plans (interestingly enough by looking back at his prior discussion of how to use a Sony U71).

I’ll certainly want to take a long, hard look at a UMPC/Origami when they become widely available, but based on what I know so far, I expect one will end up in my briefcase.

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Origami: Anatomy of a Buzzkill

origami-716726Here’s how to make a buzzkill, courtesy of Microsoft.

So first Microsoft tosses out Office Live, only without the Office part. This confuses everyone in sight, including the best thing Microsoft has going for it, Robert Scoble.

Then we get 2006 a Flash Odyssey, giving us the vague feeling that something revolutionary is afoot. Scoble, having inexplicably been previously out of the loop, begins immediately and correctly trying to deflate the hype overload that Microsoft’s non-existent or bad (I can’t tell which) marketing department was engendering. He keeps trying, but Microsoft’s Fox Mulder-like approach to releasing details makes people believe that Origami will be made from Saturn’s rings and delivered by aliens.

By this time, there’s nothing Scoble can do. Yet, as he falls beneath the stampede he thrusts his pen once again at the problem.

By the time the truth is known, there is only one possible reaction: disappointment.

Now instead of a lot of talk about what Origami is and what it can do, there will be a lot of you’ve got to be kidding and is this what all the fuss was about.

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

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My Mobile Approach

As I mentioned the other day, I lost my mobile phone and had to buy a new one. I got a Blackberry 7130e from Verizon Wireless. The transfer from T-Mobile to Verizon Wireless took just minutes and by the time I left the Verizon store, I had phone service via my same telephone number.

The first thing that I noticed about my new phone was that it could do a lot more stuff than my old one (an older BlackBerry 7100t). The new phone uses Verizon’s EV-DO network, which is a lot faster for data retrieval and internet access.

So while I only used my old phone to read my office emails and to make calls, I decided to see what else my new phone could do for me.

Here, in no particular order, is what I have done so far to make my mobile phone as smart and helpful as possible.

I’m looking for new and better things to add to my mobile toolbag, so please leave any suggestions in the Comments.

Make it a Modem

Verizon’s BroadbandAccess Connect, its wireless broadband service, costs $79 a month for non-Verizon customers and $59 a month if you are a Verizon mobile phone customer. Those prices also require you to purchase a PC card for your laptop. But if you don’t mind using your phone as a tethered (via a USB cable) modem, the cost is only $15 a month. I signed up and so far the access is fast and fairly reliable (I do have to reconnect once in a while, but that’s not a huge problem).

Make or Find a Portal

I’ve defended portals here on several occasions, having created The Home Place as a custom internet portal years ago. I use it as my “home page,” as do other friends and family. But there’s too much stuff on that page for the small screen on my phone, so I created THPMobile and set it as the home page for my phone’s browser.

Get Home and Office Email

Setting up my office email was as simple as connecting the phone to my office computer, since I was already set up to synchronize with my old phone. The Blackberry software noticed that I had a new phone, prompted me and quickly synchronized all my information.

Getting the phone to pull my home email, while leaving a copy on my mail server and using my spam filters was more of a challenge. You can set these other email accounts up via the phone, but I found it much easier to do via the Blackberry/Verizon web site.

After a little trial and error, all of my mail ends up on my phone. Plus, the phone can tell the accounts apart and knows to reply from the correct one.

Google Local

Next, I wanted to get some navigation capability. I went to Google first and hit paydirt with Google Local for Mobile. It’s easy to install and gives you maps, satellite photos and directions to and from anywhere you want to go. It’s easy to use and, via waypoints and next prompts, will lead you to your destination.

News

Next, I wanted to add some easy to read, text based news. I found two that I liked and added.

Google News. The Google News, Text Version works pretty well, but the newly released mobile version works the best (there’s a link to it on THPMobile).

and

New York Times Mobile (the link on THPMobile doesn’t work in a traditional browser, but this great site has a ton of very easy to find news, weather and sports article summaries). On the web, it talks about having to pay for the content, but if I’m paying for anything, I don’t know it. I’m getting article summaries via the link on THPMobile. Granted, it’s not the entire article, but it’s generally enough for me.

Add a Search Engine

My search for search ended up back at Google, where I found and added a link to Google Mobile Search. This simple and quick search box allows easy searches of the web, images, local information (which can then be clicked on for directions) and stuff designed specifically for mobile devices. Very handy.

Weather

I tried a bunch of the weather options and ended up using the weather function of MSN Mobile. I added a direct link to THPMobile for easy access. The weather content is also available via MHS Mobile (see below).

The Rest of MSN Mobile

I installed and configured the rest of MSN Mobile, which allows me to check my Hotmail email account, use MSN Messenger if I need to and access other news and similar content.

Flickr Mobile

I really wanted to be able to access my photos from the road and was happy to find Flickr Mobile. It lets you access and view your photos. You have to sign in every time you use it, which is sort of a drag, but once you access your photos, it works really well.

Yahoo Mobile

Next, I configured Yahoo Mobile, which allows me to check my Yahoo Mail and to access other news and similar content, plus alternative weather and driving directions. And Yahoo has some mobile-appropriate games for those long layovers. I added a link on THPMobile to the games. I only tried Blackjack and Hangman, but they seemed to work pretty well.

RSS Feeds

Since I get most of my daily news and web content via RSS feeds and My Yahoo is not mobile-friendly, I needed a way to get that data to my mobile phone. I had read about Mobilglu, so I checked it out. After signing up and downloading the MobileGlu application, I was able to add some RSS feeds to my account and access them from my phone. I haven’t played around with the application very much, but so far it looks like all the RSS feeds stream via a single feed. I hope I wrong about that, because I really want a clickable feed list.

In the meantime, I am using Bloglines Mobile, which at least gives me my blog feeds in a clickable list (I don’t use Bloglines for my news feeds).

What Else Do I Need

So that’s the story to date. If you know of other good mobile websites or applications, leave them in a Comment. I’ll definitely check them out.

Origami: Will it Walk the Walk?

I tried hard not to write about the latest rumor craze in the blogosphere, I really did. But I failed.

I failed because it’s starting to dawn on me that, notwithstanding the dazed and confused manner in which Office Live was ramped up and released, Microsoft may actually have a marketing plan. Well, at least Scoble and the boys better hope they do. Because Microsoft is talking the talk about Origami. And after all this, if it turns out to be much ado about nothing, Microsoft might be about to set off one gigantic bozo implosion.

Everywhere you look today, someone is writing about what Origami is or is not. Scoble, who presumably knows, hints that it’s something Tablet PC-like.

The Buzz

The official Origami web page, in a goofy 2001: A Space Odyssey way, implies some sort of portable, hub-like, device.

John Markoff
of The New York Times says there’s a video out there indicating that Origami is a hand-held, wireless touch-screen computer.

Some folks have suggested that it might be a media player aimed at the iPod market. Personally, I would love it, as long as it wasn’t hostage to DRM and other RIAA foolishness.

My Wish List

What I would really love to see is a device smaller than a Tablet PC and larger than a smart phone or iPod, that would allow you to play music files, access the net, take pictures, take notes (assuming they can actually get handwriting technology to work like it’s supposed to), synchronize all of that data with your desktop, and serve as a wireless modem for your laptop. Roll that out with some sort of national wireless broadband service and you’d get instant traction.

But There’s Risk

So here’s the thing Microsoft, you’ve built the buzz. You’ve got people interested.

You’re talking the talk.

Just make sure that when you finally pull up the curtain that whatever’s behind it can walk the walk.

Otherwise cover your ears, because the explosion, both bozo and blogo, will be loud.

Om Likes His X41 Too

Om likes his Thinkpad X41 Tablet PC as much as I do.

He promises a full review soon. I have said before and I’ll say it again: the X41 is simply the best choice out there for a notebook power user who travels even moderately. I can’t imagine traveling without mine.

Hey Om, get one of these babies and you’ll be ready to hit the road. 10 minutes after getting to my hotel room, I am up and running in wireless mode, accessing whatever I need on my home or office computer via Foldershare and ready to go.

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PC Myth Busting

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Dwight Silverman posted a reminder today about a great PC World article from 2004 that addresses a lot of the PC myths that I get asked about all the time. Whether you are a computer expert or someone who struggles to send an email, you should read this article.

Among the myths addressed are:

1) Magnets’ effect on data
2) Cell phones on airplanes
3) Cookies (not the kind you bake)
4) Turning off without shutting down
5) Opting out of spam
6) Turning off your PC every day
7) Laptop batteries

It’s interesting that their experience opting out of spam is similar to that of my friend at work.

One I wish they would cover is that using online sites will not immediately result in a theft of your money and identity. So many of my friends refuse to register with ANY online sites or services because they believe someone will immediately steal from them. Dwight, please bust this myth so my friends will sign up for some of these great web 2.0 applications!