July 27, 2006

The Operating System Landscape


The next twelve months presents some interesting choices for PC users. If you are in the market for a new PC you might consider waiting for the next release of Windows, called Vista before plonking down your hard earned money on a PC that will be out-of-date by the end of the year. If you are a Mac owner you might also want to wait until OS 10.5, codenamed Leopard is released. The question remains, how will these new operating systems stack up and is it worth holding off purchasing a new machine just in case.

Windows XP

In 2001 Microsoft introduced Windows XP and it was billed as the ‘must-have’ upgrade. The letters ‘XP’ stand for experience. XP was the successor to Windows 2000 and Windows ME/98. It was Microsoft’s first operating system to be based on the architecture of Windows NT – a secure and robust platform.

To date Microsoft has sold over 400 million copies of XP. Windows XP has been criticised for its lax security and continues to be the operating system of choice for virues and spyware authors.

Advantages
Fast
Stable
Compatible with many applications – including older applications that ran on Windows 95+
Integrates well with Microsoft Office and other Microsoft products
Plug-and-Play

Disadvantages
Susceptible to spyware and viruses
Hard to set-up
Performance degrades over time without frequent maintenance
Internet Explorer 6
Ineffective Search tools

Windows Vista
In 2007 Microsoft plan to release Vista. 6 years in the making the operating system looks and feels very similar to XP. Security has been beefed up – to the point (in Beta release 2) where it interferes with system usability. The user interface (called the GUI) is based on Aero – and looks and feels like Mac OS X. Search has been radically improved and Vista now ships with a reasonable calendar, address book and mail client. Internet Explorer 7 is also included with Vista and is very impressive. Until the final release in 6 months nobody can be 100% sure of what Vista will be like but early impressions suggest that it will be a ‘must-have’ upgrade for Windows users if for nothing else then enhanced security features.

Advantages
Much-improved GUI, larger icons display better on larger screens
Radically improved search tools
Good basic calendar, address book and email software
Improved security
Better use of internal and external memory
Internet Explorer 7

Disadvantages
Improved security can get in the way
May not run on some older machines
May not run some older software
Power Management functionality weak

Mac OS X – Tiger (10.4)
Mac OS X (pronounced ‘ten’) was released in March 2001 and has been improving steadily with each release. 10.4 marked the introduction of advanced search technology called Spotlight and Dashboard widgets. Along with ‘under-the-hood’ changes OS X is the best Mac operating system Apple has ever released.

Based on its BSD UNIX foundations Mac OS X is the most secure consumer-friendly operating system on the planet. In the same time that Windows users have been plagued by thousands of viruses Mac OS X remains virus and spyware free. It’s signature GUI has taken some time to improve but is now very functional. Mac OS X comes bundled with all the software you’ll ever need to use and is compatible with both the newer Intel based Mac’s and the older PowerPC variety. Mac OS X also runs on all Apple hardware with a G3 chip or better.

Advantages
Security
Stability
Ease-of-use
Search

Disadvantages
Slower on older hardware
Limited customisation options

Mac OS X – Leopard (10.5)

Not much is known about the upcoming Leopard. It will however run on both Intel and PowerPC hardware and will include some Windows compatibility layer as evidenced by the beta release of Boot Camp – software that lets your Mac run as a Windows PC. 10.5 will likely be released at the end of 2006 or January 2007. Steve Jobs will be previewing it at the Worldwide developers tradeshow in August.

Advantages
Capable of running Windows
Can run on both Intel and PowerPC chips

Disadvantages
Not yet released

Should I wait or buy now?

As with all technology as soon as you purchase your model will be obsolete. Luckily with computers you can upgrade them so they can run the latest operating system but beware - there are additional costs involved. If you are desperate for a new PC then you should make sure you buy one that meets the minimum Vista specs (A modern processor (at least 800MHz), 512 MB of system memory and a graphics processor that is DirectX 9 capable). If you do buy now then you’ll also need to pay extra to upgrade to Vista (about $300) so factor this in to the purchase decision. For Mac users all the latest Apple hardware is capable of running the latest OS however there will also be an additional upgrade charge for the Leopard when it is released (about $300).

The Best Broadband Content


Once you’ve signed up for Broadband you’ll have access to a much larger range of multimedia content on the Internet. With a Broadband connection you’ll be able to do things like watch streaming video, play multi player online games and download large files quickly.

With the increased number of Internet users making the switch to broadband more websites are adding multimedia content to enhance their appeal. In Australia there are many sites that take advantage of this by offering premium content not available to narrowband subscribers.

One good example of a broadband enhanced website is Telstra’s own Bigpond portal. Bigpond has many different categories of content and all of them are geared to broadband users. Take Bigpond Music for example. Here you’ll be able to trial and download the latest music releases. Downloading a track over regular dialup could take over ten minutes, with broadband it shouldn’t take more then three.

The newly released ‘Games Shop’ service from Bigpond also takes advantage of your broadband connection. At ‘Games Shop’ you can download full games to trial and if you decide you like them you can buy them outright. Games will be available before they are in store and Bigpond broadband subscribers are also eligible for a 20% discount.

If you are into sport, Bigpond Sports lets you view the latest sports content via streaming audio and video media – but if you don’t have broadband you won’t be able to access it as your connection will be too slow.

There are lots of other great websites that make use of Broadband. Even Google, the most popular search engine on the planet works better over broadband. Your results will be presented faster and you’ll be able to load more websites simultaneously with a faster Internet connection. Another favourite broadband website of mine is Apple Movie Trailers. Here you’ll be able to preview the latest movie trailers right from the comfort of your computer. Depending on your broadband connection you can even view the trailers in all their full screen glory.

Broadband is here to stay and over time more websites will require it to view content. With Broadband pricing decreasing now is the time to upgrade if you still use dialup. In most cases, switching to broadband will not only increase the satisfaction of your Internet experience but will also save you money.

Introduction to Broadband


Broadband Internet refers to two things – an Internet connection that is faster then narrowband or dialup, and one that is always available. A few years ago Broadband was a pipe dream for most Australians but the last 24 months has seen a reduction in the cost of Broadband to the point where, in most cases it is cheaper then having a dialup service. The term ‘Broadband’ refers to the speed of the network connection rather than the type of connection.

Broadband Speeds

Typically, broadband speed is anything faster then dialup or ‘narrowband’. When discussing network speeds the common unit is Kbps or Kilobits per second. However, thinking about Broadband in terms of ‘how much faster’ is more useful. Think of an average file – lets say a 3 mintue MP3 music track (3Mb). Over a dialup connection downloading this file might take 10 mins. Over a ‘basic’ broadband connection downloading this file might take 3 mins, and over a ‘fast’ broadband connection might take 60 seconds.

Broadband packages are priced according to two variables; download/upload speed and total downloads available. You’ll pay more for a plan that gives you high speeds and greater downloads.

A standard broadband connection is 256Kbps (or 5 times faster then dialup). A better plan might give you 512Kbps and a top plan might be 1500Kpbs.

Connection Types

After you’ve decided on your plan you’ll need to consider the type of connection. The main types available in Australia are:

ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)
ADSL runs over your existing telephone line and doesn’t interfere with your normal telephone line. It’s simple to setup and the most popular broadband connection in Australia.

CABLE
Cable broadband operates over the Foxtel cable. If you can get cable at your home then you can probably get cable. Cable connections are generally faster then ADSL for around the same monthly fee.

WIRELESS
Wireless broadband is relatively new in Australia but is growing in popularity. A wireless modem (either card or USB) communicates via radio signal to a receiver in your neighbourhood. Wireless internet is especially convenient if you are using a laptop as you’ll have access from anywhere you are. Additionally, if you not eligible for either ADSL or Cable, Wireless provides another solution.

Choosing a provider

Nearly all ISP’s that offered dialup Internet now give you a broadband option. The biggest provider of broadband in Australia is Telstra Bigpond. Bigpond offers the whole spectrum of broadband options, including ADSL, Cable, Satellite, Wireless and even ISDN. If you need a provider that offers all the options and gives you the ability to put all of your telecommunications needs on one bill you can’t go past Telstra. In the last 12 months their service levels have improved to the point where they are now rated as one of the most reliable providers in Australia.

It is important to understand the contract you are entering when signing up to Broadband. You’ll also need to understand how much flexibility you have if your requirements change. For example, can you increase your download limit and what are the costs associated with using more than your allowance. Also, does your ISP provide a backup dialup service if your Broadband service goes down.

Once you’ve decided on a provider signing up is simple. If you choose Telstra you’ll be able to walk into a Telstra store and pickup a modem and organize the self-installation. If you choose another provider the best way to sign up is through their website.

Future TV Trends


I've posted some of the research I did for my HS contribution on TV50.

TV Watch
If the thought of leaving the house without a TV or your Slingbox turned on is too much to bear then consider the TV Watch. At 30g this 1.5” TFT screen displays a crisp 280 x 220 colour digital picture. The TV Watch can receive both UHF and VHF frequencies so you can even tune into SBS. The TV watch can even tell the time.

A three hour charge will let you watch TV on the go for up to an hour. The watch comes with a Velcro band for easy on-off and like all TV’s works best in areas with strong reception. So far this watch is for sale in the US (NTSC only) but there are plans to bring the watch to Australia in the future.


Sony GlassTron

If your room isn’t big enough to accommodate the newest Pioneer 60” Plasma you might consider some new technology from Sony. The ‘Glasstron’ line of products puts 2 small LCD screens right in front of your eyes. Think about your favourite pair of glasses; now replace the lens with small LCD panels. Add a wireless connection to your Digital Settop Box and HD DVD system and you’ll be able to cruise around your house, or sit in the toilet and watch your favourite program.

Glasstron technology already exists. Sony’s PLM-A35 glass can simulate a 52” diagonal screen when viewed from a distance of about 2 meters. The Glasstron PLM-A35 has two 0.55” LCD’s each with a 180,000 pixels and a horizontal viewing angle of 30 degrees.

SlingBox
If your not home much and hate that you still pay for Foxtel a Slingbox might be in order. Slingmedia have designed a small router shaped device that plugs into your TV (or Cable/DVD/Video) on one side and your broadband connection on the other. Once you’ve configured your Slingbox all you need do when you are out of home and connected to the internet is tune into your slingbox via a web browser and watch your TV anywhere around the world.

Slingbox uses the power of video streaming to transfer whatever is showing at your house to you on your computer or handheld Windows Mobile device anywhere around the world. SlingBox even provide an interface to control your devices so you can flick channels and set your VCR to record the program even if you are out. If you’re a frequent traveller and you’d like to watch the game live, now you can with a Slingbox.

3D
3D TV has been a dream for over 50 years. The latest HD technologies are all about true-to-life pictures in 2D. Now 3D TV is becoming a reality. A company called Deep Light have designed a display that can deliver both 3D and 2D images without the need for special glasses.

Deep Light’s technology works by projecting two different images to the viewer’s eyes, each image a different perspective of a 3D scene. The rationale being that the viewer’s mind can perceive the scene in 3D exactly as it would in real life. In addition Deep Light’s 3D Display can actually project several different side-by-side perspectives of a scene to the viewing area. This quality allows motion parallax where a viewer can see a 3D scene from different angles by moving his/her head to the left or right.

The great benefit of Deep Light’s technology is that the display can also be switched to 2D for times when 3D isn’t required. Additionally, the technology is scalable so smaller screens can be joined together to form a larger unit.

July 19, 2006

MySpace


Meeting people and sharing your life has never been easier with the new crop of social networking website like MySpace. Based in New York, MySpace has become the leading social networking portal boasting over 86 million registered users. It is currently the fourth most popular English website. Musicians and bands were some of the first people to utilize social networking sites like MySpace. Many rock groups used it to establish a free online presence where they would list concert dates, communicate with their fans and even upload their music for free.

Getting online with MySpace is easy. You sign up and create a profile and then invite other friends to join your personal network. In this way your group of friends can grow very quickly as all of your friends friends also become your friends. If you already know people who are MySpace members you can search for and add them to your list of friends.

MySpace also lets you customise your area by adding music, photos and blogging space to communicate with other friends. Each members listing is unique and is infinitely customisable. MySpace also has a local Australian portal located here.

The majority of users of MySpace are 16-25 year-olds but there are also many registered users 40+ that use it to meet like-minded people and even to make new business associates.

Local social networking websites like FunkySexyCool are taking the MySpace social networking phenomenon to the next level by integrating the service with mobiles and other portable devices. FunkySexyCool also lets you upload recent photos taken on your mobile phone via MMS so that your online profile is always up-to-date. Additionally if friends try to contact you through the site and you aren't online you'll automatically receive an SMS with the message.

July 6, 2006

Tax Time Online


As one financial year ends and another begins it’s time to roll up your sleeves and prepare your tax return. The web is a great resource that can save you both time and money.

The first site to check out is the Australian Tax Office. Online you’ll find a comprehensive guide to completing your tax including very handy calculators that you let you work out everything from Income Tax, to PAYG tax to Superannuation. Simply click on ‘For Individuals’ in the left hand navigation and select ‘Rates, Calculators and Tools’.

Businesses will also find the ATO website handy. If you do your BAS statements manually it might be time to consider submitting electronically. To start the process log on here. This is the ATO gateway to online services for businesses. It provides an easy way to access information and lets you transact with the government in a secure online environment. To access this portal you must first register for an ATO digital certificate. Again, this can be completed online at www.ato.gov.au/onlineservices. Click on the ‘Register for a digital certificate’ link from the left hand navigation and follow the instructions. Your computer will need to be at least a Pentium running at 200Mhz or faster with Windows 98SE and newer operating systems supported. Any Mac running OS X with at least 128Mb can access the site.

If you are comfortable doing your tax return on line you may want to look at www.etax.com.au. The basic Etax service costs $35 plus GST. For this you’ll get a review of your return by a qualified CPA, compliance review of your return, lodgement to the ATO and refund in 14 working days (after the lodgement).

One last site to visit is Taxpayer. Taxpayer is a not-for-profit website that aims to educate taxpayers via various sources including media, educational publications and seminars relating to tax and superannuation.