I think I’ve bought my last desktop computer

A couple of years ago, I was all into and enjoyed build­ing desktop com­puters, pick­ing out the right video card, select­ing the best mother­board and gen­er­ally dig­ging deep into the innards of my future com­put­ing plat­form. And design­ing the per­fect ‘office’ com­put­ing envir­on­ment with short cable runs, ample power for my accessor­ies and lots of desktop space. Yes it was com­plex and involved and detailed, but it was a hobby — build­ing com­puters.

These days, I’m not so con­cerned about it. What I need to do on a com­puter hasn’t changed, but the com­put­ing industry has matured, my needs are now becom­ing much more main­stream, and the sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ences between one com­pon­ent and anoth­er aren’t quite so sig­ni­fic­ant any more.

Put anoth­er way, what I have been doing and want to do on a com­puter, is now much more in demand by every­day con­sumers. And the hard­ware, is becom­ing much more homo­gen­eous. They’ve caught up. Wel­come to the future.

Honey, I shrunk the CPU
Moore’s Law has also caught up, to the point where the hard­ware is smal­ler, light­er, faster, and cheap­er to make. On today’s hard­ware you can have full audio and video edit­ing stu­di­os in the soft­ware that runs your phone. You can remotely pilot vehicles with your phone or mobile com­put­ing device, and you can eas­ily com­mu­nic­ate with any­one on the plan­et using any num­ber of mobile tech­no­lo­gies.

Any of the mod­ern note­book com­puters have all that stuff in a very tiny pack­age.

Home file shar­ing
It used to be that you had files on one com­puter, and you shared them with the oth­er. Both com­puters had to be on to share the files. Now, with ubi­quit­ous WiFi and home net­work stor­age appli­ances (basic­ally net­work-aware hard drives) in your house­hold, any com­puter or com­pat­ible device can access any doc­u­ment, video, mp3, at any time. No need to have a big Mas­ter Serv­er.

The same goes for net­work-aware print­ers. Most man­u­fac­tur­ers have WiFi mod­els avail­able that know how to play nice with your home net­work envir­on­ment. Again, no need for a com­puter dir­ectly con­nec­ted to a print­er.

I men­tioned home net­work stor­age above, but these days stor­age devices are dirt cheap. So much so that it’s become pos­sible for com­mer­cial busi­ness to be built up around the concept of offer­ing you free online stor­age of your doc­u­ments, pho­tos, music, whatever…for free.

And they won’t only store your files, they’ll give you free access to applic­a­tions and tools to cre­ate and edit your stuff. Again, I no longer have a need for a huge drive attached to a big desktop box — all this stuff is in the cloud.

One caveat
There’s only two real reas­on that I can think of for need­ing a ded­ic­ated desktop com­puter these days; high-qual­ity media cre­ation, and gam­ing.

If you’re into music mak­ing, video edit­ing, pho­to­graphy, art, design, any­thing that needs you to move masses of pixels or gigs of data around, the archi­tec­ture of a desktop com­puter box is more suited to that than many of the note­book com­puters on the mar­ket. And you’re likely using the com­puter in a pro­fes­sion­al set­ting as a pho­to­graph­er, com­poser and the like.

Gam­ing also is a hard­ware resource hog, and falls into that cat­egory as many of the same com­put­ing tasks in media cre­ation are also neces­sary in game cre­ation and play­ing. Of course, there are excep­tions — I’ve seen some very power­ful (and pretty) gam­ing laptops.

Inter­est­ing, but not enough
But gam­ing isn’t enough for me to build my desktop around it, any more. Con­sole gam­ing sys­tems have edged in with com­par­able graph­ics and game­play, on much big­ger screens than could fit on my desktop.

So it looks like my next new sys­tem, likely in a year or two, won’t be a power-suck­ing behemoth that sits under my desk. Rather, it’ll be some­thing small, light, can con­nect to desktop mon­it­ors, mice & key­boards, and the home net, yet is still port­able. And I think the same holds true for most of you too. Yes, wel­come to the future 🙂
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Commerce in a post-Wikileaks economy

cc.jpgYou’ve likely seen the news that Visa, Mas­ter­card, PayP­al and oth­ers are under dis­trib­uted deni­al of ser­vice (DDOS) attacks by folk who feel that WikiLeaks head­man Juli­an Assange is being per­se­cuted for dis­trib­ut­ing sens­it­ive inform­a­tion he’d received from oth­ers.

Set­ting aside that entire espi­on­age, sex-by-sur­prise, per­se­cu­tion, journ­al­ism and right to inform­a­tion thing, what’s left is the hack­ing attempts — coördin­ated attacks on key points of the infra­struc­ture of com­merce. This, as we are in the midst of the hol­i­day buy­ing sea­son. A juicy tar­get indeed.

What’s hap­pen­ing
The coördin­ated attacks seem to be hav­ing some small effect on com­merce. Accord­ing to one report:

Mas­ter­Card, call­ing the attack “a con­cen­trated effort to flood our cor­por­ate web­site with traffic and slow access,” said all its ser­vices had been restored and that account data was not at risk.

But it said the attack, moun­ted by hack­ers using simple tools pos­ted on the Web, had exten­ded bey­ond its web­site to pay­ment pro­cessing tech­no­logy, leav­ing some cus­tom­ers unable to make online pay­ments using Mas­ter­Card soft­ware.

How it’s done
By using freely avail­able tools to tar­get and coördin­ate these attacks, *any­one* can join in the action. Find the right IRC serv­er, down­load the tools, and turn them on — poof, you’re a ‘hack-tiv­ist’ and  your com­puter (or com­puter net­work) is now part of a bot­net:

The weapon of choice is a piece of soft­ware named a “Low Orbit Ion Can­non” (LOIC) which was developed to help Inter­net secur­ity experts test the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of a web­site to these assaults, the dis­trib­uted deni­al of ser­vice attacks. The LOIC is read­ily and eas­ily avail­able for down­load on the Inter­net.

The LOIC can be con­trolled cent­rally by an admin­is­trat­or in an Inter­net Relay Chat (IRC) chan­nel, a type of com­puter chat room; it can seize con­trol of a net­work of com­puters and use their com­bined power in a DDoS attack. The attack is aimed at the tar­get web­site and when the LOICs are activ­ated they flood the web­site with a deluge of data requests at the same time.

The DDoS attack pre­vents the over­loaded serv­er from respond­ing to legit­im­ate requests and slows down the web­site to a crawl — or shuts it down totally. The attacks are coördin­ated in the IRC chan­nel, and on Thursday, around 3,000 people were act­ive on the Oper­a­tion: Pay­back chan­nel at one stage.

One side effect of all this is that the par­ti­cipants are also test­ing the lim­its of the com­merce infra­struc­ture for hack­ers and oth­ers who’s inten­tions may not be so noble as pre­vent­ing a per­ceived injustice.

The impact
So what does this mean for retail­ers and cus­tom­ers in the next few weeks and months, and what does this mean for the future of online com­merce?

  • Slow or blocked online com­merce — if the serv­ers are clogged, your online mer­chant may not be able to pro­cess your cred­it card or PayP­al trans­ac­tion, and can’t com­plete the sale
  • Increased attacks — depend­ing on how this spate of incid­ents turns out, copy-cats will use the same tech­niques against new tar­gets, or evolve their own meth­ods and tools
  • Increased unease — new online con­sumers will have anoth­er reas­on to *not* shop online, pre­fer­ring to con­tin­ue shop­ping at brick and mor­tar shops as they’ll feel more secure
  • Increased secur­ity — essen­tial to recov­er con­trol of the com­merce infra­struc­ture and to demon­strate to con­sumers that online com­merce works and is safe
  • Increased cost — bet­ter and tight­er secur­ity isn’t free, so this ‘cost of doing busi­ness’ will be factored into the retail pro­cess, res­ult­ing in high­er prices

The Genie is out of the bottle
Yep, the tools and tech­niques have been around for a while. It’s taken one event like this to cata­lyze a motiv­ated and uncon­nec­ted group of people around the world to par­ti­cip­ate in coördin­ated action. We will see more of this, maybe aimed at polit­ic­al insti­tu­tions, nation­al gov­ern­ments, or launched by envir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists. Wel­come to a new real­ity.

Remote control your computer from your iPad

Some say that the iPad is a magic­al device. I won’t go that far, but it is kinda cool, though it does have its short­com­ings — espe­cially when you com­pare it to a desktop or laptop com­puter. There are just many things done much bet­ter on a com­puter than on an iPad, which is why it’s neat that there’s com­puter remote con­trol soft­ware for the iPad.

One of the easi­est I’ve found to use is Log­MeIn Igni­tion. Part of the Log­MeIn fam­ily, Igni­tion lives on your iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch, or Android) and allows you to con­trol any com­puter you’ve registered with the Log­MeIn ser­vice.

Here’s how the pro­cess works:
1. Get a free Log­MeIn account
2. Install Log­MeIn Free cli­ent soft­ware on every PC/Mac you want to con­trol
3. Register those com­puters with your Log­MeIn account inform­a­tion

If you stop here, you now have the abil­ity to con­trol any of your registered com­puters from any oth­er registered com­puter (that’s run­ning the cli­ent soft­ware), or through the Log­MeIn web inter­face (which is very slick!).

4. Install the LogMeIn:Ignition cli­ent on your iPhone/iPod Touch or iPad

And you’re done. You can now con­trol any of your com­puters via your iPad.


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Tablets will be the story this holiday season

The iPad has been out for a bit now, and it’s the tab­let that all the oth­ers will be com­pared against as they jockey for pos­i­tion going into the hol­i­day sea­son.

But over­all, I think this is the year that tab­lets finally start to make some head­way into the mar­ket­place; a mar­ket­place already crowded with Desktops, Laptops, Net­books and Data Phones.

So, why con­sider a tab­let? Here’s a few things to think about.

Tab­lets won’t replace your main com­puter, nor will they replace your laptop. They’re not power­ful enough to do a lot of the work those com­puters do. But, they will fill in the middleground between your smart­phone and your com­puter, simply because they are smal­ler, yet not too small, and offer a great inter­act­ive exper­i­ence.

Tab­lets are  great to bring to meet­ings, light-weight and yet func­tion­al enough that look­ing up cal­en­dar con­flicts or tak­ing simple notes is a very simple pro­cess — and the tab­let is much less obvi­ous than a laptop when sit­ting around the board­room table.

Oh, and you smart­phone jockey’s out there, yes, you can do all that stuff on your hand­held Android/BlackBerry/iPhone, but the screen size is kinda lim­it­ing when you want/need to share the view.

Using some cloud com­put­ing applic­a­tions such as Drop­Box, any notes you cre­ate on your tab­let are instantly stored in the cloud account and access­ible to your oth­er com­puters.

And, if you’re in that meet­ing and need to ref­er­ence some­thing stored on your desktop, you can use desktop con­trol soft­ware such as Log­MeIn Igni­tion (on the iPad / iPhone / Touch) or a VNC cli­ent writ­ten for your tab­let. A couple of quick touch­pad strokes and you’re work­ing on your desktop com­puter as if you were sit­ting in front of it.

Ok, those are the big reas­ons that a tab­let wins for me. And here’s a few more that are really just icing on the cake:

  • Inher­ently port­able — smal­ler form factor makes it easi­er to take every­where. My iPad is with me daily, where­as my laptop or net­book only came out when I thought I might need it
  • Cas­u­al usage — since it’s with me I use it more to jot down notes, surf, etc dur­ing oth­er­wise dead time
  • Tact­ile, friendly, enga­ging — a tab­let seems less impos­ing than a full-up laptop. People like to share work on a tab­let, it’s easy to hand around a meet­ing and soli­cit feed­back.
  • Port­able media — tab­lets are great for watch­ing movies or videos on the bus or wherever because they’re smal­ler and sleeker — no huge key­board to haul around in addi­tion to the screen.

So, in my humble opin­ion, yes, the tab­let will make some ser­i­ous inroads this hol­i­day sea­son, espe­cially if the price can stay low, the hard­ware deliv­ers, and the soft­ware is developed to live in this new middleground.

So that’s why a tab­let appeals to me, how ‘bout you? Are you in or out when it comes to con­sid­er­ing a tab­let in the near future?

This post of is one of many I pub­lish weekly at the Future Shop Techb­log. Read more of my stuff here.

This is the week that was

Wow. I com­plain that the tech news week is slow, so what hap­pens? Stuff. iPad spec­u­la­tion, high-tech worms, a new tab­let com­puter from RIM and much, MUCH MORE!


I Own An iPad, So What Do I do With It?
NPD has released the second in its series of iPad sur­veys. While the first looked at buy­ing inten­tions pri­or to the launch this one is more focused on what the cur­rent own­er­ship looks like and how those own­ers are using their iPad. In con­junc­tion with the press release we thought we would add some col­or around the iPad exper­i­ence, bypassing some of the more con­ten­tious product based dis­cus­sions out there. The sur­vey provided some in-depth inform­a­tion on all aspects of the iPad, but today we are going to look at two dis­tinct areas. First, is what own­ers like and dis­like about their iPads, and second is how con­sumers are using their iPad.

iPad own­ers: young­er and more male.
As part of Advert­ising Week’s Mobile Ad Sum­mit Tues­day, the Nielsen Com­pany released the res­ults of a sur­vey of 5,000 con­sumers who own a tab­let com­puter, eRead­er, net­book, media play­er or smart­phone – includ­ing 400 iPad own­ers. The sur­vey found some curi­ous demo­graph­ic dif­fer­ences.

Apple shuts flag­ship Beijing store as iPhone 4 scalp­ers run amok
We repor­ted earli­er this month on the quaint habit of iPhone pur­chas­ing for a profit all across Lon­don, as vari­ous folk pick up units to send into the luc­rat­ive Chinese grey mar­ket for the device — today we learn that Apple had to close its Beijing Apple store yes­ter­day because grey mar­ket buy­ers were suck­ing all the store’s sup­ply.Seems that Apple bumped up the sales lim­it on iPhone 4 from two to unlim­ited in Beijing’s flag­ship store, draw­ing an imme­di­ate huge crowd of eager cus­tom­ers — but these folks were buy­ing iPhones in large quant­it­ies to resell on the grey mar­ket, which caused such a com­mo­tion secur­ity even­tu­ally shut AAPL’s flag­ship Chinese store down.

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