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.

Printing
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.

Storage
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 — coordinated 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 coordinated 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 coordinate 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 coordinated 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 coordinated 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.

LMI1.jpg

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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.

Middleground
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.

Cloudbusting
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!

Apple

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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