Will Zune Stumble and Fall Like Origami?

zuneWord about Microsoft’s upcoming media player continues to crawl around the blogosphere, with Engadget reporting today that the device, currently dubbed Zune, will support wireless song transfers. I’m sure that will either require a potload of DRM or invoke the wrath of the priority-challenged RIAA.

Anyway, Gizmodo reports that the Zune device is the flagship product of a new line of portable devices. Everybody seems to have a plan to dethrone the iPod. Here is Microsoft’s:

“Microsoft’s concentrating on features the iPod doesn’t have, instead of trying to beat Apple at their own game. The tipmeister reiterates that ad-hoc networking feature will be there, as well as a possible buffered internet radio streaming feature. If you’re within range of a WiFi signal and you’re listening to a station, the device will snatch as much of the feed as it can so when you wander out of WiFi signal, it’ll keep playing the stream as if you were in range. This might not make its way into the final product, so don’t get your hopes up too high.”

I’m guessing once the RIAA gets wind of this most excellent and logical feature, it will let slip the lawyers of war and yet another great idea will be canned in the name of preserving a dying business model.

What I am more interested in, however, is Microsoft’s marketing, or lack thereof, with respect to new products. Microsoft doesn’t seem to know how to manage a proper build up to release- particularly with hardware.

Recall the great buzz that was generated prior to the release of Origami, now renamed a buzz-killing UMPC. I wondered at the time whether Microsoft would walk the walk or toss the product out there and let it twist in the wind.

Well, I have read many reviews of UMPCs, and most of them have been negative. My blogging pal James Kendrick believes the bad reviews are a result of a misunderstanding of the UMPC’s purpose and features. While I have never held a UMPC, I tend to agree with James (I would love to have a UMPC to read news, etc. around the house and on trips). But in the face of a lot of negative press, Microsoft seems to have moved on to phones and iPod killers, etc.

Robert Scoble used to try as hard as he could to manage the build-up to release of new products. But Robert has left Microsoft and there’s no one left with the mindshare to try to point bloggers, and the three non-bloggers who read blogs, in the right direction. Sometimes, how people feel about something depends more on their expectations than the actual thing itself. Einstein, relativity and all that.

Get enough press, real and citizen, to understand a product and write about it from a place of understanding and you’ll go a long way towards ensuring a successful release. Let people speculate wildly, toss something out and forget about it and you’ve ensured the opposite.

Someone needs to step up for Microsoft and help inform, direct and manage expectations.

Otherwise, I predict another stumble out of the gate for Zune.

What’s Old is New: Microsoft Phones

According to the New York Times, Microsoft has plans to change the telecommunications world the way it changed the computing world in the 1980’s. And, I suppose, the way it tried and failed to change the telecommunications world the last time it made a newer, better phone- back in the nineties.

The trick seems to be that this time, instead of just linking your phone and your computer, Microsoft is going to link your phone, your computer AND your cell phone.

Wow.

John Markoff wrote the very thought that came to mind when I saw the headline:

“Microsoft’s challenge is to convince corporate clients that they need to adopt a growing suite of the company’s desktop and server-based software at a time when inexpensive and modular Web services are becoming increasingly popular.”

It’s not only that they are cheap, it’s that most companies already have newish phones and big companies don’t like to change their phone systems because they have to buy and install new equipment and, perhaps more importantly, retrain all of the end users.

The idea of putting another Microsoft (phone, this time) on every desktop will require people who are not risk takers to overcome their risk aversion. This is something that Scoble and I talked about earlier this year, and it is as big a hurdle as ever to making inroads into corporate IT departments.

Microsoft is touting the fact that their system will allow email to be read by the telephone. Why? Everyone and their cat have Blackberries, etc. and can get their mail anywhere. It’s better to go the other way and have voicemail delivered via email- which I have been doing for many years via my firm’s existing telephone system.

Not that there isn’t room for vast improvement in office telecommunications.

Am I the only person who can’t believe that in 2006 we still can’t dial an office phone from within Outlook by clicking a button? That fact blows my mind almost as much as the fact that Hillary Clinton might be our next President.

Give me dialing from Outlook. Not all the other bells and whistles that no one will use.

Alec Saunders talks about Microsoft’s 10-year plan for phones. Is it a 10-year plan or an every 10 year plan? What’s different about this decade that gives Microsoft a better chance of success. Going for the corporate user? Maybe, but that seems like a tougher sell to me than the phone-hungry consumer browsing Circuit City.

As a gadget hound, I am intrigued by the prospect of a nifty new Microsoft phone. The chances of our IT department ever putting one on my desk, however, is between slim and none.

And slim just left the building.

Top 100 Best Products of the Year

I love lists and PC World keeps bringing them. The latest is their list of the 100 Best Products of the Year.

Here are some notes for each grouping of 10.

1-10

Lots of dual core chips, which I haven’t used. Craigslist, the newspaper killer, is a well deserved number 3. Google Earth seems a little high at 6. Mine and Doc‘s new camera comes in at number 8. YouTube is 9, which sounds about right.

11-20

Photoshop Elements
is too high at 11. Give me a program that edits like Paint Shop Pro and organizes like ACDSee 8 and I’ll be so happy. Firefox is 12, but that seems too low. Google is 17.

21-30

Photoshop CS2 is number 22, proving that somebody at PC World has the Adobe love and a fat wallet. The new Yahoo mail (still in beta) is about right at 30.

31-40

TIVO, my dying on the vine favorite, is 31, which would have been too low two years ago and is too high today. Blogger gets some AOL-like bring the masses to the party love at 33. The Thinkpad X60 (I like the tablet model) is also about right at 37.

41-50

Opera, which is the new Firefox, is number 48. Vonage, which is to IPOs as Brittany Spears is to parenting, rolls in at a generous 50.

51-60

Scads of devoted fans will rejoice at seeing StumbleUpon at 51.

61-70

Rhapsody, which would be fine if not owned by Real Networks comes in at a DRM infested, must telephone to cancel, never again for me number 69. I know zip about any of the others in this group.

71-80

Flickr comes in at a far, far too low 78. It should be way higher. Likewise, Nero should be teens higher than 79.

81-90

Other than the Xbox, which I’ve never used, and EvDO, which I use all the time, I haven’t heard of anything in this group.

91-100

Del.icio.us squeaks in at 93. Because most people have never heard of it, that’s probably about right. If the list was blogosphere-oriented, it would be in the top 10 for sure. WordPress (95), Greasemonkey (98) and FeedDemon (99) demonstrate a desire to appease the tech savvy with some toss-ins at the end.

Outside Looking In

Where is Digg, Techmeme and Technorati? For that matter, where’s MySpace?

No Treos, no blackberry devices?

No Feedburner or Odeo or Audacity? No Skype?

PC World’s Worst Tech Products of All Time

PC World has an article ranking the worst tech products of all time.

Here are my thoughts about the ones I used.

15. Iomega Zip Drive

My intense dislike for zip drives has been well documented. 15 is too low. I’d rank zip drives a strong number 2.

13. IBM PCjr

I didn’t have a PCjr, but I had one of its many clones. I used that computer from 1986 to 1990 and it served me well.

12. Pointcast

I actually think the Pointcast screensaver back then was better than anything similar we have today. It was push technology a little before its time.

4. Windows ME

I thought ME was pretty awful as an upgrade, but I didn’t have the massive problems with it that others experienced.

5. Sony BMG Music CDs

Sony did a stupid thing and got rightly trashed for it.

2. RealNetworks RealPlayer

This is my least favorite software of all time. 2 is too low- it should be number one by a mile. Bloatware that is hard to get rid of. It’s better to never install it.

1. AOL

This is a choice engineered to gain approval by the technical elite. AOL has lots of problems, but it has also helped bring millions upon millions of people to the internet. AOL is the bunny slope of the internet ski mountain. I don’t use it, but I recognize its value, particularly historically, to lots of people.

If I’m to Be Your Camera

If I’m to be your camera,
then who will be your face?
-REM

After researching cameras for a while and considering the various alternatives, I bought a new digital camera. I wanted a digital SLR that would allow me to take photos semi-automatically, like my trusty Sony DSC-V3, and do a lot more manual stuff as I climb up the learning curve.

30D-775836I settled on a Canon EOS 30D. I also bought a Canon Speedlite flash to use with it. My impressions so far are (a) it is a great camera that can do everything I want it to and more, and (b) I have a lot to learn about photography. I am going to take a camera class later this month, but so far it has been a process of trial and error. I happened across Darren Rowse’s excellent Digital Photography School blog. If anyone has any other sites I should bookmark, please let me know. My initial objectives are to learn the proper settings to take shots of the kids playing their sports and colorful shots in lower light settings and to learn how to manipulate depth of field.

Through reading the manual several times and trial and error, I have already flower-723925learned a lot more than I knew before about the various camera setting. I am still confused by the practical interplay between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I know what each term means, but I don’t yet know how to set each for a particular shot or which one to set first.

I took a hundred or so photos today, first of a birthday party and then of the kids and their friends swimming.

jumping-771950The kids love to jump off the walls behind the swimming pool. Previously, getting a decent photo of them in flight was a hit and miss proposition, with at best one face sort of in focus and the rest of the faces blurry.

This camera will take 5-6 shots of the same jump, with every part of the picture in focus. This camera compared to my old one is more than night and day.

And that’s notwithstanding the fact that I am a mere novice at the digital SLR thing.

It’s going to be fun learning all this stuff, and I certainly welcome any bookmarks or pointers from the experts.

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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Testing a New Sprint Phone

sprintphone-737183I got my Sprint phone in the mail today. Sprint is running a marketing campaign that involves handing out a free phone and 6 months of free service to selected people in certain cities. Since I am aware of several other bloggers who were asked to participate in this program, I imagine Sprint got my name via my blog.

The phone is a Sprint Power Vision phone, model A920, manufactured by Samsung. It comes with a charger, headphones, a USB cable to connect to your computer and a 32MB memory card (the phone has a slot).

It’s a pretty compelling deal. They gave me 6 months of free voice and data service, including web access, music downloads, etc. This will allow me to really put this phone through its paces and write about it a little bit. After 6 months, I get to keep the phone, but I have to buy service if I want to use it.

I will be comparing it to my current phone, which I bought the day before I got the email from Sprint (I’ve always been a master of bad timing).

So here are my initial impressions.

It’s a good looking phone, with a big, bright colorful screen. Other than figuring out how to turn it on, I haven’t had to consult the user manual at all. It came all set up with a new phone number (Missouri area code) and email address (ambassador7365@sprintpcs.com – feel free to drop me a line- no spam please – but I haven’t tried it so I can’t guarantee I’ll get it).

So far here are the cool things I’ve discovered. The phone is connected to a music store, where you can buy a wide selection of songs. I downloaded The Rolling Stones’ Monkey Man, and the sound is really good, even without the headphones. I’m not sure I’d pay the usual $2.50 for a song, but thankfully I didn’t have too.

The web access seems pretty fast, maybe even faster than my current phone, which uses the Verizon wireless broadband network. More on this after I experiment a little.

I have only begun to explore the media features. Movies, TV shows, Sirius radio and a ton of other stuff is available.

And it has a camera that seems to work really well (this is my first camera phone). I haven’t tried it yet, but you can send your photos directly to supported third party photo sites. Flickr doesn’t seem to be supported yet (that will be my first feedback), but you can email your photos to Flickr. Here’s my first camera phone photo ever.

firstphonephoto

Like my 7130e, this phone can also be used as a modem to allow your laptop to access the internet over Sprint’s wireless broadband network.

So far I’d have to say I’m pretty impressed. I suspect using all of the features would be a little costly if you had to pay for them, but so far, so cool.

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.