Category Archives: Most-read

A few days before personal computing changes forever

iPad

A few days before the iPad is out I am ready to make my bet. It  will be a revolution.

The iPhone was a revolution for mobile handsets.  Nokia laughed at Apple when they launched a new phone in what was a “mature” market. Now, no one doubts that Steve Jobs was actually right when he said  “Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone” in January 2007.

David Pogue’s review of the iPad is worth reading. “It is basically  a gigantic iPod Touch”, it could not be described in less words.

I would take from his review the insight that the iPad is no substitute for a laptop for tasks to create content, like writing docs, presentations, coding software, not to mention any more sophisticated content like photo or video editing. But it IS a great device to consume content, like reading, web browsing, watching video or gaming. And for that purpose, the experience is even better than a laptop.

The lack of Adobe Flash is an issue, but  looking at the speed that video sites  and video platforms like Brightcove or Oolaya are preparing for the iPad, it might not be a show-stopper; specially if Hulu launches an iPad application as rumored.

If after reading Pogue’s review still in doubt, BBspot.com offer a decision flow chart. Not that I agree with it, but it’s funny…

ipad-flowchart

TechCrunch announces more reviews hitting the net.

Will Internet TV Kill IPTV?

Internet TV has definitively arrived and it is here to stay. YouTube crossed the chasm for video on the Internet, and Internet TV is now steadily going mainstream. Here is some piece of evidence:

  1. Lean-forward TV gets traction. Mainstream users now feel comfortable watching videos on the PC. First it was the few minutes clips, but more and more people have no issue sitting in front of the PC for long videos of one hour or more. With bigger displays, many are getting used to watching video while browsing and chatting in the same screen.
  2. Broadband bandwidth keeps increasing, and video compression techniques keep decreasing bit-rates for the same quality. This trend is not going to stop any time soon.
  3. PC2TV concept has not crossed the chasm, but it is easier than ever to connect small-form, silent, low power PCs to HDTV-ready LCD TV sets with DVI/HDMI connections. The Mac Mini, the Vaio TP-1 or even the EEE Box PC are easy to connect and make Internet TV enjoyable from the sofa. Wii, PS3 and Xbox360 can also make the Internet TV connection, as well as some specific set-top-boxes, such as Apple TV,  new Tivo models, or even LCD manufacturers adding an Internet connexion (see Sony Bravia Internet Video Link).

YouTube and Hulu are gaining a leading position in advertising-supported Internet TV. YouTube has reached an agreement with CBS to offer complete TV shows with inserted video ads, which is a different game from current UGC and short clips from TV shows.  On top of that, many TV channels are developing their own Internet sites to deliver Catch-Up TV, i.e. broadcast TV-shows offered on-demand. Spanish TVE site is one fine example.

If all this is already posing a serious threat to IPTV and Cable, other over-the-top players are also strongly positioning in Video-On-Demand. Apple TV, Amazon Unbox or even Netflix offers of movie downloads, compete seriously with the VoD that IPTV telcos and cable operators offer.

How can IPTV telcos fight back and win?

  • Embrace Internet as another channel for their offering. Provide users with access to their subscription channels on the PC (and mobile) , with a one-stop-shop offering for catch-up TV for all channels they offer. Enrich the lean-forward TV experience on the PC screen, and add interaction to main social networks.
  • HDTV. Bet on better video quality and immediacy. iTunes can offer HD movies, but it will take a while to download. IPTV streams the content and the user watches immediately. With increasing bandwidth the advantage will erode with time, but the telco can always be ahead with newer ultra HD formats.
  • Content is King. Exclusive content deals make the difference. IPTV telcos should focus on Live premium content (sports events, concerts). No Internet TV player can support millions users concurrently streaming a live HD broadcast of the Super Bowl. Only multicast IPTV can cope with it.
  • Manage the complexity of the Home network on behalf of the user. Bet on set-top-boxes with PVR features and open to support Internet TV, including competitors offering for video downloads. Make YouTube and iTunes just another TV channel in your catalog. Position your set-top-box in the living room before someone else does and makes yours replaceable.

IPTV is a platform for a next-generation Pay-TV service. Exclusive content and a wide offering of channels is a key success factors for IPTV, as it was for Cable/Satellite pay-TV operators. Embracing Internet TV as part of IPTV offering is another one.

Eee PC: Linux or XP?

Jim was decided to buy a netbook. One friend recommended him the Asus Eee PC. Jim does not know much about computers, but his brother-in-law Greg is one of these geeks that knows everything about the latest toys.

Jim: Which Eee should I buy? Linux or XP?

Greg: First, among the Eee models, I would recommend you go for the Eee PC 901, with a solid-state disk (SSD). You have less storage than with a hard-drive but the SSD is lighter, faster and has no mechanical parts, so it is shock-proven. The Linux version brings 20GB (split into 4GB+16GB) SSD and the Windows XP version 12GB (4GB+8GB) at the same price. In both cases the 4GB drive is faster and stores the OS. The second drive, although double the size in the Linux version, should not be a key deciding factor. If 8GB is not enough you can add a 16GB SD card today, and next year 32GB SD cards will be available. So in the long run the storage is not the key factor in the decision. The key is, what do you want to do with your Eee PC?

Jim: Well, I guess typical stuff: email, web browsing, deal with documents, communicate with Skype…

Greg: For that both Linux and XP will do. Both have a browser, both come with OpenOffice and access to Google Docs and Skype. Anything more sophisticated you want to do?

Jim: Let me think… well… yes, multimedia. I want to see pictures, music and video.

Greg: For video, download VLC player.  It plays any format in the world, including YouTube flash. You can download it free and install it easily in XP or in the Xandros Linux distribution that comes with the Eee. Just be aware that if you want to add a VLC icon to Xandros you will need to edit a few configuration files.

Jim: What about adding an USB TV Tuner? I think that would be cool to watch TV while on the go…

Greg: Most tuners come only with Windows drivers, but you can make Windows drivers run on Linux with ndiswrapper. You might need to recompile the Kernel, but it should work.

Jim: One more thing, I want to access my desktop PC from the netbook to watch all movies stored in its 500GB hard-drive. You know, I want to use the desktop PC as a server.

Greg: That is easy with XP. With Linux you just need a program called Samba. It is then straight forward, but just note that if your server/desktop is Vista, there are some flaws in Vista implementation of Samba protocol and you will need some workaround to connect from Linux.

Jim:  I almost forgot, but being so portable I want to connect to the 3G wireless network using my Nokia phone as a modem connected via bluetooth.

Greg: I do not think Nokia will provide you their phone suite in other than Windows, but if you investigate in Linux forums there might be a way to do it.

Jim: And what about the access to my company VPN. I currently access from XP, will that work in Linux?

Greg: With a little investigation you might find the way … hopefully.

Jim: Mm, Greg, all these things about editing config files, installing ndiswrapper, and all the investigations to connect to Vista, to a phone built-in 3G modem and to the VPN… are not a bit too much for someone like me who does not have a clue about Linux or any Unix?

Greg: Look Jim,  if you want to learn Linux, and you want to use your computer for Internet in Wifi hotspots, go for the Linux/Xandros version. If you must connect to your company VPN, use 3G through your phone, connect easily to Vista computers and add TV tuners and other USB toys, go for Windows XP. It is not so cool as Linux, but you are more likely to get sophisticated things working without spending hours in Linux forums getting deep into it.

Jim: But Greg… weren’t you a fanatic of Linux?

Greg: And I am Jim. Linux is great for servers, for embedded systems and soon for mobile handsets. But today we still live in a Windows world for the desktop. Pragmatics still choose Windows. If you want to be part of those changing the wold to make the desktop free from Windows, go and buy the Linux netbook and enjoy making it work and helping others get a free OS.

And by the way, if anybody has a hint on how to easily fix these issues for Xandros, please post a comment below and share your experience.

Coolness Vs. Openness

Mac, coolness: the choice of the artist and the MBA. Style, simplicity, less features but works flawlessly, usability on the top, identify with brand, price premium. The right brain decides.

Ubuntu, openness: the choice of the engineer and the geek. Features, features, features, beta versions, open to add more features, open to develop and install applications, works on any HW, lowest cost. The choice of the left brain. Microsoft would fall in this category as well. It is far from being open source, but the independence of HW platform, openness for developers to write applications, easy install and uninstall of applications, and market dominance, make Microsoft a choice for the pragmatic, emotional phobias aside.

When openness meets coolness: Google and Android

Even Mike Arrington and BusinessWeek contribute to the hype of the iPhone 3G, set to beat even the most optimistic expectations. The right brain has made its choice, there is no handset as cool as the iPhone: MultiTouch, great web browsing, email, youtube, an iPod inside and the guarantee to be the envy of your buddies. But the left brain says: wait, what apps will you be able to install except those sold by App Store? at what price? no copy and paste, only h264 video, only syncs with iTunes, no flash memory card slot, no 3G video calls, no keyboard and forced to a two year contract with the operator…

And here is where Google appears. Google flagship is also simplicity, things that just work (even if Beta…), a brand comparable to Apple (for the moment), and a flavor of openness.  Android combines an open platform with the revolutionary concept the iPhone brought, only that you have an army of developers and a variety of handset HW so that you can pick which of the shortcomings of iPhone you want to fix in your Android.

Will you run for the iPhone 3G or wait to see what Android is capable? I admit it, I am an engineer, I will wait.

2018. What Laptop Will You Use in Ten Years?

We have lived enough IT history to know that reality has exceeded Moore’s Law prediction of computers doubling capacity every 18 months. In fact, the period is now close to 12 months.

Following this exponential growth these are the specs for a $1500 Laptop in 2018, and some accessories:

  • Microprocessor number of Cores: 256 Cores 1.9 Teraflops
  • RAM: 500 Gigabytes
  • Solid-State HD: 32 Terabytes
  • Flash memory cards (SD-HC, Compact): 16 Terabytes
  • Wifi: 1 Gbps
  • Broadband: 8 Gbps
  • External NAS: 1 Petabyte
  • iPod 5G: 8TB at $199, 16TB (3.5 million songs) at $299

With the advances in nanotechnology applied to solar photovoltaics cells and more efficient batteries, laptops will be solar powered, and will not need to connect to the power grid with a normal use. The OS user interface will be based in Motion-Sensing Gesture and Speech Recognition.

IBM Supercomputer Roadrunner was recently news for breaking the one Petaflop proccessing power mark.  At the current pace, probably with a microprocessor based in nanostructures and fotonic technology, a laptop in 2028 will have the same processing power.

The question is, what use will we give to such powerful machines?

Reference:  Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.

Note: Projection for number of cores assumes 18 months to double capacity, since multiple core technology is relatively new. Flash memory, broadband bandwith and iPod projections follow the pace of 12 month experienced in recent years.

 

IBM Supercomputer Sets Record, or rather not?

With a total of 116,640 processor cores, including AMD Opteron processors as well as 12,960 IBM Cell processors similar to those created for the PlayStation 3, IBM has broken the one petaflop mark with the new Supercomputer commissioned by the American military administration. The $133 million machine*, called Roadrunner, will be used to solve complex issues related to nuclear weapons, and to address problems like the climate change.

While a remarkable achievement, Brough Turner pointed out in his blog a few weeks ago that Google might have surpassed the petaflop mark unnoticed. The Google Cluster is built on the principle of extensive parallelization with fault-tolerance managed by software. The index is partitioned over several servers, so that a single search query is processed in parallel by many processors, minimizing the overall response time for a search. A paper describing Google Cluster Architecture (dated 2003, but worth reading), underlines how Google selects commodity class PCs, as they provide the best performace/cost ratio, without the need of expensive hardware reliability as fault-tolerance is handled by software. Google is estimated to currently have more than 500.000 servers distributed across their data centers. Assuming a performance of 14.7 gigaflops for an AMD Athlon X2 4600 processor (a good performance/cost ratio two years ago), Google platform must be handling today more than 7 petaflops!!** 

At a $500 cost per PC, Google would have spent $250 million. Still cheap comparable to IBM price for one seventh of the capacity.

Whether record or not, IBM has taken 11 years to improve their supercomputer performance a thousandfold. As the performance growth is not linear but exponential, the next thousandfold improvement, taking us to exaflops, should be expected sooner than 8 years from now. Singularity might not be that far after all.

Reference: NYT’s Military Supercomputer Sets Record

* less than $140 million Real Madrid is claimed to be ready to pay for Cristiano Ronaldo

** I have used a less powerful processor than Brough, in the assumption that a Quad Core in end of 2006 were less cost effective than an AMD dual core.

 

Will we ever use video calls?

Videocalls are available in UMTS networks and supported by most 3G handsets in the market. Still, how many people do actually use it? Have you tried it yourself?

Among the factors that prevent people from video calling, the privacy issue is one of the main concerns. You do not want your boss to videocall you and find that you are not working from home as you told him. Other people are shy to be seen in a videocall because they do not like to see themselves in video. And then, there is the uncertainty whether the other party has a 3G phone and whether your friend will like to be disturbed by an intrusive videocall. Other factor not to dismiss,  is simply that people do not have in their mind that they can do a video call from their phone. In other words, they are not educated to use video calls.

Whatever the reasons, the fact is 3G video calls have not taken off (yet).

Still video adds significant richness to communications, compare to audio only, be it for 3G video calls or video conferencing in general. I do use Skype video calls with my family and friends, and once you are used to it, you do not want to do voice only. Skype says that 28% of the calls between users are video calls.

Clearly video calls are not to be used for all communications. Same as sometimes it is more appropriate to use SMS than a phone call, in many cases an audio call is preferrable to a video call. Texting is less intrusive than a phone call, and a phone call is less intrusive than a video call. Still for a more intense communication video is a better option, but you might want a degree of intimacy with the other party before opting for video.

In the enterprise segment, videoconferencing is clearly growing and the ultimate video communication tool, Telepresence, is getting traction. Corporates do find value in video communications. As with many other technologies, enterprises are adopting first and consumers will follow, as it happened with mobile phones, laptops or mobile email.

Skype, and all new laptops with webcam incorporated, are set to be one of the drivers of video communications. The agreement with Jaman to insert movie clips in Skype calls, as reported by GigaOm and TechCrunch, should only help to add more value to our video calls, and incentive its use.

Coming back to 3G, as UMTS handsets become affordable for teenagers (the greatest early adopters of new ways of communication) I would not be surprised to see 3G video calls taking off soon. These kids have grown used to being recorded in video since birth, so the shyness factor clearly disappears. They use the phones in many ways most of us can not do, and do not expect video to be an exception

If James Bond and Austin Powers used video calls in the seventies, wouldn’t the twenty first century kids do it too?