The Evangelist

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With smaller devices becoming more and more powerful, could larger laptops become obsolete for all but power users?

In recent years, the power of small mobile devices has clearly increased at an incredible rate. While devices such as the iPhone, netbooks, and other mobile internet devices (MIDs) certainly aren't extreme multitasking machines, they get the job done and do it well.

There's no doubt that these devices are gaining great popularity; sources suggest that the iPhone has 10.8% of the smartphone market, while other reports suggest that netbook sales may rise to 22 million units this year.

All of this begs a question: why lug around a full size notebook computer when all of the tasks (or the vast majority of them) that you need to do may be possible using a much smaller device. Sure, you might not get a large screen or crystal-clear sound, but is all of that really necessary? Clearly many are saying "no, it's not."

Some might point to the rise and fall of similar devices in the past. Ultraportable devices always seemed to be more of an item for a limited audience, and many turned out to be flops (for example, see Apple's MessagePad series of PDAs and their eMate 300, which resembles a small netbook). However, I would argue that those devices were ahead of their time and the technology simply was not ready. Now, with the increasing use of wireless internet and the increasing power of these portable devices (to the extent that a number of netbooks can handle HD movie playback), the gap between what users want (and need) and the world of portable gadgets is closing rapidly. In addition, these devices don't come with a ridiculous price tag, as products of these sizes used to.

In addition, one other problem that used to exist with portable devices is in the process of being overcome: the inability of many devices to take advantage of the full breadth of the internet. This was clearly one of Apple's biggest concerns with the iPhone. Now, the news comes that Flash Player, on which a great deal of online content such of videos is based, will be coming to many smartphones.

Modern mobile devices are clearly quite capable of handling both entertainment and business tasks. While most are not as open of a platform as a standard computer, and "freeware" might be harder to come by, mobile apps do have their advantages. They tend to stick to one thing and therefore try to do that one thing right, as where PC apps can sometimes overdo or overcomplicate tasks.

All of this said, there should be no doubt that standard laptops aren't going to disappear (at least not overnight). Having a decent amount of power on the go is still important to many users. It is simply a matter of what tool will fit the job best.

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A message many consumers can sympathize with

For many consumers, it can seem like it is you against the technology. Indeed, the very technology that is supposed to make our lives easier can seem to complicate things. This is especially true when new versions of software are released that, while they may have more features, typically introduce interface changes that may confuse users and can also have bugs in all of those new features.

This is especially relevant at the moment, with the recent release of Apple's Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Microsoft's impending release of Windows 7.

Despite the fact that Apple's Mac operating systems are typically known for their reliability and easy of use, Snow Leopard has not been without its problems. Most notable is a recently discovered bug that could cause the administrator account's data to be deleted. This, however, requires some unique circumstances and isn't exactly easily reproduced unless you are really trying to cause it. On the other hand, there have been compatibility problems, which has far greater potential to affect the experience of users. In addition, Snow Leopard does not come with Rosetta installed by default. While this results in a smaller default installation (as Apple has touted), it also means that the user has to install Rosetta before they can use any of their old PowerPC applications.

Also affected by Snow Leopard are those users who can't upgrade to Snow Leopard: those still using PowerPC Macs. Some of these users feel as if they are being "left behind" by Apple. While Windows users could theoretically install Windows 7 even on a relatively old PC (it has been demonstrated running on Pentium II PCs, although I wouldn't recommend using such a system for day-to-day work), even Mac users who bought PowerPC computers more recently cannot upgrade. It should be noted, however, that more and more applications are Intel-only, so Apple is not alone in this move.

On the other hand, Windows 7 presents its own unique problems. Although Windows 7 seems to at least be faster and more responsive than the much-derided Windows Vista, the difference doesn't appear to be by that great. Worse yet, Windows XP users will still face some of the incompatibility problems they experienced (or would have experienced) with Vista.

Users coming straight from Windows XP may still have problems finding some things due to the differences in the way things like the control panel are set up. While I feel that Windows 7's way of doing things is actually better, those who are used to doing things the Windows XP way will undoubtedly have problems.

The Windows 7 taskbar definitely has the potential to confuse users. While it is possible to switch to the classic taskbar, quite a few inexperienced users may not realize this is even possible, and may be thoroughly annoyed by the new feature.

Another problem is that while Windows XP Mode can help on the software compatibility side, the processor must have hardware support for virtualization in order for it to work. This has the potential to confuse the consumer even more considering the fact that Intel's budget processors typically do not have support for hardware virtualization, and support for virtualizating even among distinct product families can be inconsistent. AMD has been far more consistent, which could prove the be beneficial to the company. If retailers fail to make it clear to users which PCs are XP Mode compatible and which ones aren't, many users with old software could be especially angered when they find out that their new (or existing) computer with a copy of Windows 7 that supposedly supports the feature can't run it.

Of course, what many users are failing to realize is that Windows XP had the same kinds of problems when it was first released. It was criticized for its instability as well as its incompatibility with many old DOS applications as well as some older Windows apps. Of course, Windows XP improved greatly with service pack releases, and XP is currently the most widely used version of Windows.

Of course, there is no real solution to these problems. If new operating systems didn't include any new features, the companies that produce them wouldn't be able to sell them using their current business models. And, when you think about it, the thought of not having moved on from Windows 9x to Windows XP is absurd now. Somewhat ironically, the time between the release of Windows 95 and the release of Windows XP was a bit over 6 years, while the time between the release of XP and the upcoming release of Windows 7 will have been 8 years. While this is a testament to the quality of Windows XP, only so much life can be had out of an operating system in the consumer market. On the other hand, the lifecycles of some products are ridiculous. It's not Microsoft's fault that hardware vendors don't bother to create drivers for newer operating systems. It's also not Microsoft's fault that many of these drivers are subpar, and can be the cause of "Windows" instability; consider that if Microsoft were to enforce stricter standards, even fewer device makers might create updated drivers for new operating systems. Apple only avoids these problems because of the limited set of hardware on which OS X runs.

There are, of course, some ways to alleviate some of these problems.

One interesting possibility would be a subscription-based operating system. This could offer vendors a way to not force people to buy a completely new operating system every couple of years while still having a valid business plan. Newer elements could be modularized and added to compatible systems in the future, while underlying modules (such as those relating to drivers) could remain the same if compatibility would be broken by an update. This, of course, would introduce its own problems. Not everybody has an internet connection, and those who don't would likely be forced to call in. At any rate, it would likely require some time to renew the subscription. It could also anger consumers and make them feel as if they don't really have control over their computers.

As far as processor virtualization support goes, the key would be more consistency across product lines and at least being consistent when using such a feature (or a lack thereof) in order to segment the market. Intel has announced that hardware virtualization will be added to some additional processors.

In the end, consumers can do a few things to keep their experience is positive as possible. Before buying a product, check for reviews online. For example, go to Google and enter the name of the product you are thinking about buying and "review". It is even better if you can enter the specific model of the product that you are looking at buying, to see if it might be an older version and/or might have problems not present in other iterations of the same product. Also, proprietary formats, particularly connectors, can be a headache if there is not enough industry investment into them. Look into these technologies carefully, and be wary that they might not work with every device, and if they break, you might not be able to replace them easily.

Finally, don't forget one important fact: there are people out there that would be happy to help you, whether you are a beginner or seasoned veteran in the tech world. Chances are that there is a forum for your product (or type of product) where you can get help from others. Doing so can make what would otherwise be a major problem into a learning experience, and you just might find that the technology isn't so unfriendly after all.

The Evangelist is now on the Entrecard Marketplace! Entrecard members should see my listings page for more information.

Current listings include text and 125x125 spots. I hope that this helps support the community.

-The Evangelist

Google has been developing an open-source plugin for Internet Explorer dubbed "Chrome Frame" that allows web pages to be rendered by Google's Chrome layout engine rather than the one built in to Internet Explorer.

This affords the user a number of benefits. Perhaps most importantly to Google, Chrome Frame enables the draft HTML5 standard in IE. This will be required for the use of Google Wave, Google's new powerful communication and collaboration tool.

In addition, Chrome Frame can also offer better Javascript performance thanks to the Chrome layout engine.

The only caveat is that, as of when this article was written, web developers have to add a tag to their web pages in order to render Chrome tab. It is my hope that Google extends the Chrome Frame capability to all pages at the user's discretion, allowing users who are familiar with the Internet Explorer interface to take advantage of Google's excellent layout engine.

Potential downloaders should also keep in mind the fact that Chrome Frame is, as Google describes it, in an "early stage." This means that there still might be some bugs and some glitches with the software.

Those who are interested should visit Google's page on Chrome Frame for more information.

Just in case anybody noticed that I have been apparently getting hits from Google searches for "refererx", I just wanted to clarify a few things.

This blog is not associated with RefererX and does not use it. I couldn't even find how the visitor got to this blog through that search.

Moreover, this blog has never sold anything, marketed anything for anyone for pay, received any products or services for review, or been paid for a review. Due to the new regulations being put out, I will be creating a disclosure page to explain our current policy.

That said, I want to reaffirm that this blog is dedicated to creating unique and interesting articles on technology topics.

-The Evangelist